More than two weeks ago, Georgia Southern was staring down the possibility of a 1-4 start to its season. The Eagles trailed South Alabama 17-10 with 4:24 to play and the end zone 65 yards away, but they rallied to force overtime before stealing away from Mobile with a 20-17 double-OT victory and a new lease on life in terms of staying competitive in the Sun Belt East.
That all seems like a distant memory as the Thursday night game was followed by a bye week, but Georgia Southern (2-3, 1-1 Sun Belt) hopes that there is at least a bit of momentum still leaning its way as it faces another conference showdown against Coastal Carolina (3-3, 0-2) today at 3 p.m. at Paulson Stadium. The stakes will be just as high as the Eagles need a second consecutive victory in order to keep pace in the division race.
“It was good to go into a bye week with a win,” GS coach Chad Lunsford said. “Now we turn our attention to Coastal Carolina. There are 16 days between those games, so it's really important that we stay consistent over that time. When we get out there on Saturday, we need to get into a rhythm.”
The Georgia Southern defense was a dominant force against South Alabama, allowing just four first downs and 247 total yards. That unit will face a far tougher task today as Coastal brings in an offense that has scored 46.3 points per game over its last four contests.
It might also be a bit of a chess match as each defense is better suited than most to stop the offense it will face.
A running theme in any game week press conference for opponents of Georgia Southern is that the Eagles’ triple-option offense is unique and very tough to prepare for in a short amount of time. But Coastal head coach Jamey Chadwell has installed an option offense of his own with the Chanticleers.
Quarterback Fred Payton has managed the rushing attack while already amassing over 1,000 yards through the air while backup Bryce Carpenter takes over in run-heavy situations and is second on the team in rushing.
Familiarity from both defenses might tempt offenses to switch things up, but that doesn’t seem to be Lunsford’s course of attack.
“I think if you start trying to do something that you're not, you're going to be in trouble,” Lunsford said. “We need to focus on the things we know that we need to do well in order to succeed.”
Regardless of how the Georgia Southern offense attacks, all eyes will be on just how effective it can be.
While the Eagles have strung together some solid performances on the stat sheet, the running trend of 2019 is that something will pop up to keep the offense from cashing in for touchdowns. The South Alabama game was the latest example as the Eagles rushed for 310 yards and held the ball for over 40 minutes, yet needed the final desperation drive just to get to an extra period.
It today is the day the Eagles turn a corner and start to roll up points, they’ll have to do so with a starting lineup that has been shaken up yet again. The GS offense played its last two games without center Jakob Cooper and word has come down that a concussion has ended his season. The Eagles will also line up today without their go-to running back as Logan Wright will miss at least a month with a neck injury.
J.D. King figures to see an uptick in his carry load while Lunsford mentioned that freshman Gerald Green and redshirt sophomore Jared Daniels would be the next running backs thrown into the mix.
Despite the loss of Wright, there is a chance that the Eagles' rushing attack could feel more complete this week.
The South Alabama game saw the return to the backfield of Wesley Kennedy III, who was suspended for the first four games. With Kennedy having knocked off any rust and quarterback Shai Werts putting an opening game injury far in his rearview mirror and King ready to take on a bigger role, the Georgia Southern offense should finally be able to enter a game without limitations on certain facets of their attacking abilities.
One injury question mark remains on the defensive side as Monquavian Brinson will be a gametime decision, but the Eagles will otherwise take the field against the Chanticleers with the same group that was able to dominate throughout against South Alabama.
Aside from the usual ins and outs of strategic play in a given game, today’s matchup also figures to have a party crasher as a tropical system is projected to spend most of the morning and afternoon dumping buckets of rain on Statesboro, with some 20 mile-per-hour wind gusts to boot.
It won't be the most enjoyable game for fans in the stands, but Lunsford doesn't anticipate that the conditions will affect his team in any way.
"We're aware of the potential for rain, but that's something we deal with living in this area," Lunsford said. "No matter the weather, it is always a perfect day for the Eagles to soar. I hope all of Eagle Nation shows up, rain or shine."