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My Take: Different season, same story for Georgia Southern

This is a familiar story for the Georgia Southern Eagles.
    In 2012, GSU started its Southern Conference schedule on the road in Charleston, S.C., against The Citadel and lost 23-21. It was a game in which the Eagles were heavy favorites, but they ran into a brick wall of turnovers (2), penalties (6) and special teams (two missed field goals).
    The Eagles out-gained the Bulldogs 364-253, but that was due more to athleticism than execution — then-quarterback Ezayi Youyoute rushed for 101 yards — and The Citadel made GSU pay.
    Fast forward to 2013, and GSU started its conference schedule on the road in Spartanburg, S.C., against Wofford, and lost 30-20. It was a game in which the Eagles were slight favorites, and they ran into a brick wall of turnovers (3), penalties (5) and special teams (an unsuccessful fake punt on 4th-and-23, kickoffs going out of bounds, etc.).
    The Eagles out-gained the Terriers (426-391), but again, it was because there was more talent on GSU’s side of the ball — see Kevin Ellison’s 53-yard run on 3rd-and-11 off of a simple quarterback draw for one example — but Wofford made GSU pay, especially on the offensive and defensive lines.
    Both games saw Georgia Southern get beat in the trenches, taking a ton of damage up the gut from similar option offenses. Both games saw the opposing defense shedding blocks both up the middle and on the perimeter.
    Perhaps, most importantly, both games left Georgia Southern fans clamoring for Jerick McKinnon to be the starting — and only — quarterback, lining up under center and running midline and veer-option plays and grinding out yards on the ground.
    Both games saw new things from the playbook. The 2012 game against The Citadel saw Youyoute running numerous variations of option plays from the shotgun.
    This time, it was four-wide sets and, for the first time in recent memory, anyway, the I-formation with fullbacks Dominique Swope and William Banks being used as the lead blocker for McKinnon, who took snaps at quarterback, slotback and the halfback in the I.
    In 2012, of course, the Eagles rebounded to win six straight, become eventual SoCon champions and make a third-consecutive trip to the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.
    That’s where this story veers off of the familiar path into the unknown.
    In 2013, the Eagles are in transition to the Football Bowl Subdivision’s Sun Belt Conference.
    There’s no goal of a SoCon title. There’s no goal of winning the program's seventh national title. The goal of an 11-0 season is gone. The goal of an 8-0 SoCon schedule is gone.
    There are still goals left on the schedule. The Eagles can go 6-0 at home, they can beat Appalachian State on the road and they could still even get the program’s first FBS win when they close the season at Florida.
    Those are all lofty goals, to be sure, but are they enough to keep the Eagles motivated? Are they enough to keep the fans coming to Paulson Stadium for the remaining four home games? Are they enough to make seniors like McKinnon, Banks, Josh Rowe, Kyle Oehlbeck and Javon Mention, among many others, motivated and hungry for the remainder of this 11-game season?
    After the 2012 edition of the Georgia Southern Eagles lost to The Citadel in the SoCon opener, they got hungrier.
    The story of the 2013 team’s response to an early letdown on the road has yet to be written.

    Matt Yogus may be reached at (912) 489-9408.