To be sure, the most important thing to come out of Georgia Southern’s game against The Citadel Saturday was a 14-12 victory.
If you’d like to feel good about that win, I’ll go ahead and give you until the end of this sentence.
Last week, Georgia Southern took its No. 1 ranking up to Boone, only to be humbled in a loss to Appalachian State. Troubling as it was, not many teams can make it through an entire season undefeated. What’s more, when a championship-caliber team gets rattled, it usually serves to strengthen the squad’s resolve and ensure that the needed adjustments will be made.
I’m not sure what the Eagles did with the six days between their loss and Saturday’s narrow win, but the GSU team that trotted out onto Paulson Stadium against The Citadel looked much more like a team that was unsure of itself than one that was confident in its ability to bounce back.
There were some bright spots for Georgia Southern Saturday — the special teams unit blocked a pair of extra points and the passing game looked much better than it did a week ago.
But then, there was a seemingly endless parade of miscues, mistakes and missed opportunities that left much of the homecoming crown disappointed, if not thoroughly confused about what the Eagles were trying to accomplish.
The most glaring — and potentially the most costly — problems for the Eagles continues to be turnovers and red zone performance. After a clean sheet through his first seven games, quarterback Jaybo Shaw has now thrown three interceptions in his last eight quarters of play — all of them downfield and into good coverage. To Shaw’s credit, he also put the ball right on the money quite a few times Saturday, but after a potential game-breaking pass to set up first-and-goal on the Bulldog 1, GSU fumbled away another opportunity.
Then, there is the look of the offense. What was the familiar, often unstoppable flexbone early in the season has now morphed into a multiple look offense that starts from under center as often as it does from shotgun.
Now, I don’t see an inherent problem with this. In fact, the opening games proved that GSU can be just as deadly from the new sets as their trusty old ones. But now, a never-ending carousel of Shaw and Jerrick McKinnon taking snaps looks like it’s hindering the offense more than helping in.
Georgia Southern’s line is a veteran group and its slotbacks have been a model of consistency. This is just one reporter’s thoughts, but it would seem that having a different cadence or a different touch on pitches is a better reason for penalties and fumbles than All-Conference linemen consistently messing up snap counts or talented ball carriers forgetting to hold on to the ball.
The good news is that these are just some concerns. They are pressing thoughts that can remain reserved — although a slightly more accurate 37 yard field goal late in the fourth quarter could have changed the urgency of all of this.
A win is a win, but while all wins may count about equal, the teams that those victories are earned against certainly aren’t.
The Eagles suffered a loss, then looked rusty in biting and clawing their way to a win.
But the road only gets tougher from here. Whatever has been bugging the Eagles, it’s time to shake things off and get the GSU momentum up to full speed once again.
Mike Anthony can be reached at (912) 489-9404.