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Eagles brace for Bobcats in bowl game
GS Football
Georgia Southern wide receiver Marcus Sanders, Jr. stretches across the goal line for a 30-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter against Georgia State at Paulson Stadium on Thursday, Oct. 26. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

Showing progress is something coaches are always striving for. Saturday the Georgia Southern football team has a chance to show progress from a year ago as they take on Ohio University in the Myrtle Beach Bowl which kicks off at 11 a.m. in Conway S.C. 

The Eagles entered last year’s bowl game after a huge victory over Appalachian State in their season finale which made them bowl eligible at 6-6. They lost to Buffalo in the Camellia Bowl and finished with a record of 6-7.  

This year they started 6-2 and enter the bowl game on a four-game losing streak. Helton feels it will be a huge momentum swing into the off-season and for recruiting as well if the Eagles can finish above .500 for the first time since 2020 with a bowl victory over Ohio Saturday. 

Both teams have reason to be motivated for Saturday’s game. The Eagles are trying to finish above .500 and snap a four-game losing streak. The Bobcats are looking to set a school record with their tenth win of the season. The Eagles may have the advantage though when looking ahead as it has been a tumultuous couple weeks for the Bobcats who have seen some key players leave the team and enter the transfer portal, while the Eagle lineup has stayed about the same. 

“One thing I have really appreciated about our football team is they want to finish what they started,” Helton said. “We have our starting quarterback, running back, receivers all with us including Khalen Hood who is trying to be the first 100-catch receiver in the history of our program. We have a couple running backs, a linebacker in Marques Watson-Trent who could go anywhere, and he decided he wanted to be on our football team.” 

This game has actually moved from Ohio being a 3.5 favorite, to Georgia Southern being a 3.5 favorite since the announcement of the Bobcat offensive players entering the transfer portal. They will be playing without their starting quarterback, running back, receiver, backup running back and second leading tackler.  

Kurtis Rourke started 11 games this year at quarterback and is now in the portal. His backup is C.J. Harris who is out for the season, so third-string quarterback Parker Navarro will start and has thrown only 10 passes this entire season. Leading rushers Sieh Bangura (811 yards) and O’Shaan Allison (452 yards) have entered the transfer portal and will not play. That leaves Tyler Walton as the leading rusher in the game with 34 yards on five carries. 

“Their offense is well-coached and plays extremely clean football,” Helton said. “They are among the top 25 teams in turnover margin because they don’t give the ball up, and their defense is able to create turnovers.” 

“They have a really good offensive line and a great center and left guard,” said Eagle linebacker Marques Watson-Trent. “We know their identity is to run the ball to set up the pass. Stopping the run is our main priority.” 

While the Bobcat offense may have personnel issues, the defense loses only second leading tackler linebacker Keye Thompson. Ohio has the fifth ranked scoring defense as they allow just over 15 points per game.  

“Their defense jumps off the page at you,” Helton said. “You are talking about one of the top-5 defenses in the country. When you watch the tape, you see 11 guys with relentless effort who are extremely well coached and don’t break assignments.” 

The Eagle offense has struggled recently scoring only 17 points in each of their last two games. They will be tested by a defense who is ranked eighth against the run allowing 96 yard per game and is ranked No. 11 in third down conversion percentage defensively.   

“We know they are one of the top defenses in the nation,” said Eagle senior offensive lineman Brian Miller. “They are only giving up 15 points per game so we know it will be a challenge, but we are prepared for it and we continue to get ready.” 

Another thing that could play into the hands of the Eagles is the crowd that will be on hand. Conway S.C. is only four hours from Statesboro. Ohio University is located in Athens OH and is over eight hours away.  

“One of the great things about Eagle Nation is they travel,” Helton said. “I was amazed by the turnout we had last year in Montgomery at the Camellia Bowl. Our side of the field was completely filled and it created a great television experience when you watched that bowl game and I expect nothing less this week. Our fans love this team and our university and I can’t wait to see them here.” 

The Eagles and Bobcats kick off the 2023-24 bowl season Saturday at 11 a.m. in Conway, S.C. The game will be televised on ESPN.