The Georgia Southern Eagles will have to do something they haven’t done all year if they want to finish their season with a winning record.
Win on the road.
The Eagles (5-4, 3-4 Southern Conference) close the book on the program’s Football Championship Subdivision era with road games against Elon and Florida.
The Eagles face Elon (2-8, 1-5) on the road Saturday at 3 p.m.
It will also be the last game at home in the SoCon for the Phoenix, who are leaving the conference in 2014 for the Colonial Athletic Association.
“I talked to the team about that,” GSU coach Jeff Monken said. “I said, ‘Just as we’re coming off our last Southern Conference home game, these guys are going to be playing their last Southern Conference home game.’ I’m sure it’s going to be an emotional game for them, but it needs to be an emotional game for us, too.”
The Eagles are coming off an emotional 35-19 win over Western Carolina in the home finale, and Monken knows that GSU will need more than emotion to get the first road win.
“Emotion doesn't win the game,” Monken said. “I heard (Florida State coach) Jimbo Fisher say that to the sideline reporter right before they kicked it off in the Miami game, and it’s true. Emotion doesn't win the game. Execution wins the game. Now, if you couple execution with emotion and guys who really care, that are playing for a cause, that’s a team that’s hard to beat.”
The Eagles committed four turnovers against the Catamounts, but also forced a season-high four interceptions, two by freshman Matt Dobson and two by senior Lavelle Westbrooks.
“We all felt like our attitude as a defense was that it was our last game here,” said senior linebacker Kyle Oehlbeck, who led GSU with a career-high 14 tackles. “Blake Riley, Lavelle Westbrooks, the seniors stepped up big time. There was just an attitude with our defense that we weren’t going to lose.”
Monken hopes the momentum comes on the road, where turnovers and big plays from the opposing offenses have been the Eagles’ undoing against Wofford, Samford, and Appalachian State.
“It’s our last Southern Conference game ever. We owe it to this program and to the players who have left a legacy to this team, to play our best football up there. To try and get a win as we transition out of this league,” Monken said.
Since the new era of Georgia Southern football began in 1982, the Eagles have had only three losing seasons — 1996, 2006 and 2009.
“There’s only been three seasons where there’s been a losing record in school history,” Monken said. “We certainly don't want to be a team to add to that list. … We’re going to try to make this very last game in the Southern Conference the best one we’ve played this year.”
While attempting to scoop a blocked extra point Saturday against Western Carolina, junior safety Deion Stanley injured his knee. He didn’t return to the game.
Stanley has been on crutches since Saturday, but the status of the injury is still unknown.
We’re going to find out some time this week. He’s on crutches right now,” Monken said. “We’re going to get an MRI and find out exactly what is going on.”
Stanley was replaced by sophomore Antonio Glover.
“He did a great job,” Monken said about Glover, who finished the game with four tackles and a pass breakup. “The kid takes a lot of pride in his role. He went in there, and he hasn't played that much football at all for us. That was really the first significant work that he got all year.
Jerick McKinnon needs just 64 rushing yards against Elon to match GSU great Jayson Foster’s career rushing total of 3,835. With another 51, McKinnon would pass Joe Ross for third all time in Georgia Southern history behind only Adrian Peterson (6,559) and Jermaine Austin (5,411).
Matt Yogus may be reached (912) 489-9408.