No. 1 GSU (7-0) at No. 5 App. St. (5-2)
3 p.m., Kidd Brewer Stadium
Radio: 103.7 FM
TV: GPB, ESPN3
The preliminaries are over for the Georgia Southern football team.
The No. 1 Eagles (7-0, 5-0) enter the nitty-gritty part of their season beginning Saturday at 3 p.m. at Boone, N.C., when they take on No. 5 Appalachian State needing a win to stay on top of the Southern Conference race.
The game will be televised on the Southern Conference network which is carried by PBS stations in Georgia and South Carolina. It also will be available on ESPN3. A crowd of more than 28,000 is anticipated to be on hand at 21,650-seat Kidd Brewer Stadium.
With four regular season games remaining there are no patsies left on the schedule. The Tusculums and Presbyterians of the world have been replaced by road games at App State, Wofford and Alabama with troublesome The Citadel the lone home contest.
The Mountaineers (5-2, 3-1) are gunning for a record seventh straight SoCon title, and need a win over Georgia Southern to remain alive in the race.
The Eagles, the only other conference school to have won six straight championships, need wins in two of their three remaining conference games to claim a share of the title. Georgia Southern last won the SoCon in 2002.
While six of Georgia Southern’s seven wins this season have been by double digits the Mountaineers, by their standards, have been struggling.
However, veteran coach Jerry Moore may have seen his team’s fortunes take a change for the better due, oddly, to an injury to its best player.
Senior quarterback D’Andre Pressley suffered a shoulder injury in a 28-14 loss at Wofford. Pressley was replaced by redshirt sophomore Jamal Jackson.
Jackson led App to a 49-42 win over The Citadel — the Mountaineers led 42-14 at one point — and then last Saturday engineered a 35-17 victory over Samford.
Pressley was third in the Walter Payton Award voting last year and was Offensive Player of the Year in the conference after compiling 3,670 yards total offense, 2,631 through the air.
Pressley, however, did return to play against Samford: as a defensive back. He had a forced fumble and six solo tackles.
“To take a guy who the media and coaches said was the top offensive player in our league and start him on defense says a lot about that kid, and their team,” Georgia Southern Coach Jeff Monken said. “We’ve got a lot of weapons to prepare for.”
While the Eagles have been winning handily the Mountaineers, by their standards, have been struggling, Moore said.
“We’ve won some games, but we’ve struggled even doing that,” Moore said. “We’ve got the potential to be a pretty good football team. We’re just going to have to wait and see.”
The move to Jackson, even now that Pressley is apparently healthy, has had minimal effect on the Mountaineers, Moore said.
“It was a tough decision in one way, and not so tough in another,” Moore said. “They’re both good quarterbacks. D’Andre is a senior, but he’s a team guy all the way. He asked about playing another position. We’ve used him in the past as a runner, a wide receiver and a kick returner.
“Jamal is a pure quarterback,” Moore said. “We can’t move him. Before he was named a starter he had earned the respect of the team because of his work ethic. He’s always approached things as if he were the starter.”
With Jackson at the controls the Mountaineers had 552 yards total offense at The Citadel, their best outing of the year, and followed that up with 519 against Samford.
The Eagles came back from a 14-0 first quarter deficit to beat the Mountaineers last year in overtime, 21-14. App was ranked No. 1 entering the game.
That win, Monken said, gave his team the confidence it needed to go on a six game win streak which ended in an FCS semifinals loss at Delaware.
“We hung in there and slugged it out,” Monken said. “We could have folded, but the guys believed they could play championship level football, and they had to that day.
“It was a momentum boost,” Monken said. “It was a big win for us for sure.”