#2 GSU (6-1, 5-1) at Chattanooga (4-3, 3-1)
Saturday, 6 p.m.
Radio: 103.7 FM
When Georgia Southern and Chattanooga play, the Mocs usually have little at stake. However, it’s different this year.
It will be a high-stakes affair when No. 2 Georgia Southern (6-1, 5-1) takes on the surging Mocs (4-3, 3-1) in a key Southern Conference game at 6 p.m. on Saturday in Chattanooga, Tenn.
The Eagles own nine SoCon titles, the most recent coming last year. Chattanooga on the other hand won the last of its four conference championships in 1984.and has rarely contended since.
The Mocs’ best conference finish since claiming that championship came in 1990 when they finished third.
That has changed in coach Russ Huesman’s fourth season.
Like Georgia Southern the Mocs are now in a position where they control their own destiny.
Chattanooga’s challenge is simple — win out and it is the conference champion. Ditto for the Eagles.
Like every game since a loss at The Citadel to open conference play, GSU coach Jeff Monken labels this “the biggest game of the year.”
“When you win that makes the next game bigger,” Monken said.
The Eagles and Mocs are two of three teams with one loss in conference play. Wofford is the third, and Chattanooga plays the Terriers in two weeks
Over the years Georgia Southern has basically owned Chattanooga, holding a 21-4 lead in the series, twice enjoying nine-game winning streaks. However, the last two years’ results indicate the worm may be turning.
Two years ago in Chattanooga the Mocs dominated the Eagles in the second half to pull off a 35-27 win. Only a GSU touchdown with 90 seconds to play made the game look closer than it was.
Last year at Paulson Stadium the Mocs trailed 21-7 at the half, but again controlled the second half only to come up short in a 28-27 Georgia Southern win.
Chattanooga scored with 1:44 to play, and with momentum on his side Huesman elected to go for the win. The two-point conversion failed, and the Eagles escaped with the victory.
The Mocs got off to a slow start this season, losing three of their first four including a 34-17 loss to Appalachian State in their conference opener.
“They’ve got two quarterbacks (Jacob Huesman, Terrell Robinson) who are really good players,” Monken said. “You’ve got a bunch of skilled players to go with them, and a good offensive line.
“The thing that impresses me most in general is their production on third downs,” Monken said. “They convert on third downs to keep drives alive, and they stop people on third downs and get them off the field. I think that’s an important statistic in football.”
Huesman, a freshman and son of the coach, is the starting quarterback and has all the makings to become one of the premier quarterbacks in the SoCon in the next three years.
Huesman is 107-for-157 for 1,039 yards for nine touchdowns, and leads the Mocs in rushing with 427 yards. His completion total is a school record for a freshman.
Robinson started several games last year as a freshman, and it was his play that turned the game around against the Eagles. He is used often at wide receiver, and caught nine passes in a 31-10 win over Furman.
Chattanooga is last in the conference in scoring and total offense, averaging 24 points and 336 yards per game. But, the Mocs lead in time of possession with 34 minutes per game.
“That’s ridiculous in terms of the amount of difference,” Monken said. “That’s a lot of time to control the ball.”
Also, the Mocs do not turn the ball over. Chattanooga has a league low five turnovers this season—two fumbles and three interceptions—and have a plus six margin in turnovers. Georgia Southern is minus two.
The Mocs, like the Eagles, have an outstanding defense led by sophomore defensive end Davis Tull who leads the SoCon in sacks with eight, tackles for loss with 9.5, and forced fumbles with three.
The Mocs allowed only one touchdown in each of their last three games while giving up 13 points or less.
Georgia Southern leads the SoCon in total defense, and points allowed, but the Mocs are second in both categories.
And in a close game, special teams can make a huge difference. The Mocs could have an advantage as this is an area where the Eagles have struggled all season.
In last week’s 20-13 win over Samford the Mocs’ punter, Nick Pollard, put the ball inside the Bulldog 20-yard line four times, Huesman said.
“The big difference against Samford was we punted the ball well,” Huesman said. “It’s tough to move the ball the length of the field consistently. When you get nine possessions that makes it tough on your offense.”