No. 3 GSU (1-0) at
The Citadel (1-0)
Today, 6 p.m.
Radio: 103.7 FM
CHARLESTON, S.C. —In the world of FCS football, the Georgia Southern Eagles are a national brand.
The Eagles hold the record for most national championships with six, albeit it has been 12 years since they last hoisted a flag. Georgia Southern is the only team to have reached the semifinals the last two years.
The Citadel, on the other hand, is looked upon as one of the bottom feeders in the Southern Conference.
Since winning the SoCon championship in 1992 with an 11-2 record, the Bulldogs have had only four seasons in which they finished .500 or better, the last coming in 2007 when they went 7-4 in Coach Kevin Higgins’ third season.
Since that high water mark the Dogs are 16-37 including last Saturday’s 45-14 win over Charleston Southern.
However, when it comes to playing Georgia Southern, the Bulldogs look like the caped crusaders.
The Eagles and The Citadel will meet for the 22nd time at 6 p.m. on Saturday at the Bulldogs’ Johnson Hagood Stadium. It will be the conference opener for both teams.
Georgia Southern, the defending SoCon champion, holds a 17-4 lead in the series and will be looking for its sixth straight win over Higgins’ crew. None of those victories, however, have come easy.
In recent years the series has developed into a real struggle that is usually settled in the closing minutes. Georgia Southern has won the last five by an average of 7.2 points per game, and that includes a 20-0 game two years ago in which the Bulldogs fumbled nine times.
Other games include a 44-41 triple-overtime game in 2008, and last year’s 14-12 loss when the Bulldogs missed a wind-blown field goal at the buzzer after having two extra points blocked.
Higgins can do nothing but wince when he thinks about the way his teams have lost to the Eagles.
“We had a first down inside the 10 (in the triple-overtime loss) and simply ran out of plays,” Higgins said. “We had to settle for a field goal.”
After holding the Dogs to the three-pointer Adam Urbano scored on a 25-yard run on Georgia Southern’s first play.
Two years ago Higgins installed the triple option offense, and felt good coming out of the spring. What he didn’t count on was his most experienced and best quarterback going on a summer armed robbery spree which ended with his arrest and incarceration.
However, that’s past history and Higgins believes better days are ahead for the Bulldogs who are in their third year of running the option.
Higgins said his team began showing some signs of turning the corner last year although the record showed only a one-game improvement (4-7, 2-6) in the win column.
“We lost some close games last year,” Higgins said. “The game at Georgia Southern was a gut wrencher. We had a shot at App State (49-42 loss), and lost to Elon on a field goal in overtime.”
There was also a five-point loss to Samford. With a few better bounces of the ball the Bulldogs could have had another four wins which would have meant a winning season.
“We’re in our third year of the option and we’re getting better,” Higgins said. ”The kids have a much better understanding and feel for what we’re doing.”
The Bulldogs have nine starters back on offense including fullback Darien Robinson (6-0, 220) and quarterback Ben Dupree (5-9, 185), a pair of juniors who ran for 862 and 645 yards, respectively. Dupree also completed 22-of-46 passes for 192 yards.
Both teams, of course, run the triple option and throwing the ball is not part of their thought process. They each attempted eight passes in their openers last week with the Bulldogs completing three while Georgia Southern failed to have anyone catch a pass.
Eagle Coach Jeff Monken is now facing the Bulldogs for the eighth time as an assistant and head coach, and while he recognizes Georgia Southern has dominated the series in terms of wins he’s taking nothing for granted.
“What a tough game this is,” Monken said. “They’re a hard-nosed, tough group of kids, and our kids are, too. That’s what makes it that way.
“We understand their offense better, and they understand ours,” Monken said. “That’s one of the reasons we’re just duking it out with them. They play so well at home. Three of the four games we’ve lost to them we’ve lost there, and there’s a reason why.”
Bulldog offensive coordinator Bob Bodine is a former assistant at Georgia Southern (1999-2002), and he coached with Eagle offensive coordinator Brent Davis at VMI. Also, Citadel quarterbacks coach Craig Candeto played quarterback at Navy when Monken was an assistant there under Paul Johnson.
Candeto, who is one of Navy’s all-time greats, is in his second year at The Citadel after starting his coaching career at Georgia Tech in 2010 following a five-year stint as a fighter pilot in the Navy.