Riding high after starting the season 2-0 including a win over a Power-5 conference member in Nebraska, the Georgia Southern Eagles struggled out of the gates Saturday at UAB. Despite cutting the lead to 28-21 in the fourth quarter the Eagles had trouble overcoming three turnovers and the defense gave up 223 yards and four touchdowns to the Blazers DeWayne McBride as UAB handed the Eagles their first loss of the season 35-21 Saturday in Birmingham.
“Credit to UAB and Coach Bryant Vincent as they came in with a well-executed gameplan,” said Helton. “We came out very slow as we got down 21-0 basically off turnovers. If you have three turnovers against a ball-controlled team like UAB you are going to put yourself in a hole.”
Helton did appreciate the fight the team showed in getting themselves back in the ballgame, but admitted one final turnover in the fourth ended up being the final straw.
“Credit to our kids as we came together,” said Helton. “When we were down 21-0, we told them these are the changes we are going to make, and if you execute them, you will have a chance in the fourth quarter. We are going to have to claw, fight and scratch your way back. When you looked up with eight minutes left in the fourth quarter, we had the ball and we were only down 28-21. That is the exact same situation we had at Nebraska, but this time we didn’t get it done.”
Coming off being named as the national offensive player of the week, quarterback Kyle Vantrease threw an interception with the Eagles down 28-21 mid-way through the fourth quarter which was his third interception of the game. The Blazers then marched downfield and scored on a 4-yard touchdown by McBride for what proved to be the final points of the game.
“I thought we got better from week one to week two,” said Helton. “Going from week two to week three the turnovers were a huge factor and ultimately, we ended up losing because of it. You never want a loss, but if you have one there are three things you want to see and first of all that is you want to see your team fight till the bitter end which I feel like we did. Secondly, when you enter the locker room you want to see that they are hurting and angry and they want to do better and it was evident they do. Thirdly, you want your guys to want to see what they can do to move forward and that is what I saw Sunday in practice.”
The Eagle defense was thought to be one of the strengths of this year’s team. Through the last two games the Eagles have given up 77 points and after allowing 257 yards and five touchdowns on the ground versus Nebraska, Saturday they gave up 288 yards and four scores on the ground against UAB.
“There were two things that stood out in the loss from a defensive standpoint and that was consistent gap integrity and tackling,” said Helton. “About 75 percent of the time when the kids were in the gap sound and used the right tackling fundamentals things were very good. When it wasn’t that when the explosive plays come. We sold out in that game and played a lot of man coverage to try and put as many men in the box and make them beat us with the pass. When you do that and somebody gets out of their gap there is not going to be anything behind it. We also really need to make a consistent effort to improve from that game to this game this week.”
One bright spot in the game for the Eagles was the continued solid play of running back Jalen White. Saturday White put up 116 yards and scored two touchdowns and caught two passes for 40 yards. White has scored two touchdowns in all three Georgia Southern games this year. Derwin Burgess led the way receiving with four catches for 48-yards and one touchdown.
A week after losing receiver Sam Kenerson for the season with a serious knee injury the Eagles had to watch another player be carted off the field Saturday in Birmingham as seventh-year senior Todd Bradley Glenn left the game with a dislocated elbow.
“When you talk about Todd you are talking about the rock of our defense,” said Helton. “If Kyle Vantrease is our quarterback on offense, then Todd is our quarterback on defense. He was really playing at a high level in that game and then we lost him. I felt we took that same deep breath we did last week after losing Sam Kenerson. I was proud of the guys that in a very emotional time in losing a leader and a captain to be able to do their job and get us back to where we needed to be in the fourth quarter with a chance to go win the game.”
Fellow senior defender Dillon Springer touched on the loss of Bradley-Glenn as well and what the Eagles must now do without him on the field.
“Seeing something like that happen to Todd is just so tough,” said Springer. “I heard him and I knew it must be pretty bad. Losing a guy like that is tough, but we have faith and trust in all our guys that whoever the next guy up is going to take care of business. Even if someone is down it doesn’t mean they are out. He can still be at practice helping the younger guys and lifting them up and helping them along.”
Georgia Southern returns home Saturday for a 6 p.m. start against Ball State.