A couple extra days of preparation didn’t seem to help the Georgia Southern Eagles Saturday as the offense set a season low in points for the second straight week and the Eagles dropped a 23-10 decision to the Marshall Thundering Herd.
With both teams needing a victory to become bowl eligible the Eagles dug themselves a hole and were never able to come back, despite the Georgia Southern defense limiting Marshall to just three points in the second half. Playing before one of the smallest crowds of the season the Eagle offense sputtered once again and didn’t help their own cause as they had two costly turnovers in Marshall territory.
“I thought the game ended up coming down to third down efficiency and they are the best defense in the country against third down,” said Eagle coach Clay Helton. “We were 2 for 11 and had two turnovers on the plus side of the field which was the difference in the game. I salute our defense for keeping us in the game. I know yardage was given up but at the end of the day this game is about points and our defense kept us within two scores in the second half that we needed to try and climb back in it.
Marshall scored a long touchdown on their opening possession and the Eagles were able to answer with a field goal to cut the lead to 6-3. Marshall added a pair of touchdowns in the second quarter to extend their lead to 20-3. The Eagles scored late in the second on a 27-yard pass from Kyle Vantrease to Khaleb Hood, but that is as close as things would get.
Vantrease finished the game going 22-39 for 205 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Jalen White led the way for the offense with 143 yards on just 13 carries. White left the game in the third quarter after making his way ahead 21-yards on his only reception of the game. While trying to fight ahead for extra yards White was hit high from behind and cut down at his knees low. He came up grabbing his knee and had to be helped from the field. Helton praised White Saturday night, and then had some potential bad news Monday afternoon.
“Jalen White was just about as special as I’ve seen and that’s the best performance I have seen out of him,” said Helton. “He really carried the team on his back. When we first carried him off the field our medical staff thought it was an ankle injury but now, we know it’s more of a knee injury. We don’t think it will require surgery, it is more day-to-day. It doesn’t look good right now but we will see where it goes.
The Eagles were already playing Saturday without Gerald Green who missed the game after an injury sustained last week in practice. With Green and White out the only other back to record more than two carries this year is O.J. Arnold. The Eagles have already lost wide receivers Sam Kenerson, Amare Jones and Derwin Burgess Jr. for the year. When asked if the injuries can be attributed to the offense the Eagles run or strength and conditioning, Helton felt it was more likely just bad luck.
“When you look at the injuries that have occurred, I don’t think our offense attributed to the injuries,” said Helton. “I don’t think the RPO attributes to injuries I think they have been highly useful for us this year and they complement a run game, so they go hand in hand. We were so healthy until the month of November and then things just kind of fell apart on us.”
The Eagles defense once again gave up plenty of years as Marshall ran for 255 yards, and threw for 274. The Eagles remain among the bottom teams in the NCAA in total defense and rushing defense but Saturday showed how the Eagles bend but don’t necessarily break as they are currently ranked 11th in the country in red zone defense.
“I really feel great about our defense right now,” said Eagle senior defensive back Wylan Free. “Coach Harris puts together a great gameplan every week. We are a bend but don’t break defense and at the end of the day it is about putting points on the board. If you come down and put three points up instead of seven eventually that is not going to be enough to win the game.”
Up next it will be another scenario where the winner becomes bowl eligible, while the loser will see their season come to a close as the Eagles host Appalachian State Saturday at 6:00.