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Eagles face unbeaten Coastal Carolina in Sun Belt opener
GS Football
Georgia Southern wide receiver Amare Jones, center, leaves Ball State defenders Amechi Uzodinma II, left, and Jordan Riley in his wake on a 47-yard touchdown pass to put the Eagles up 34-23 in the fourth quarter at Paulson Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 24. - photo by By SCOTT BRYANT

The good news for the Georgia Southern Eagles is to this point they have exceeded most people’s expectations as they currently sit 3-1 on the season. Las Vegas oddsmakers put the over/under for wins for Clay Helton’s team in his first year at four games. And they are just one victory from that total. The bad news is the Eagles open what looks to be a very tough Sun Belt schedule with the hottest team in the league in the 4-0 Coastal Carolina Chanticleers. 


The Eagles offense has led the way to this point as they have been a pretty balanced attack and are currently ranked 10th in all of FBS in total offense averaging just over 500 yards of offense per game. Quarterback Kyle Vantrease is currently 7th in passing at just over 320 yards per contest, while the Eagle rushing attack comes in at 187 yards per game which is good for 47th. Vantrease is confident about the ability of the offense to score and his leadership skills. 


“Some guys are high vocal guys, and some are lead by example guys,” said Vantrease. “I try to stay in the middle of both. If you are too vocal and that is not who you are people see through that. If you don’t say anything and you are supposed to be a leader of a team, they aren’t going to respect you. Finding that happy medium is where I try to be and just try to install confidence in the guys around me and tell them I am putting my all out for you guys and I hope you guys are doing the same for me.” 


The troublesome part for the Eagles comes on the defensive side of the ball, and in particular their inability to stop the run. The Eagles are currently ranked 124th out of 131 total FBS schools in rush defense where they are giving up an average of 218 yards per game. The Eagles did a little better job of wrapping up on tackles last Saturday against Ball Stare, but will be facing a Chanticleer offense who is in the top-30 in FBS in rushing offense. C/J. Beasley comes in with 345 yards rushing and Reese White has 245 yards this season. 


“I thought we took a step forward last week as far as getting the ball down in the run game,” said coach Clay Helton. “That is going to be imperative this week as they have two exceptional running backs who are hard to get on the ground. They both have a low center of gravity and it is hard for just one person to get them on the ground. We have once again preached relentless effort in getting to the ball and getting all 11 members there to get these really talented runners to the ground.” 


As if the Eagles don’t have enough to worry about facing one of the only undefeated teams still remaining in FBS, they are also facing weather concerns. With Hurricane Ian making its way toward the South Carolina coast, The Eagles will not be able to travel until Saturday. Despite Georgia Southern officials attempts to move the game to Thursday or Sunday to try and avoid making a same-day trip the only accommodations Coastal Carolina was willing to make was to move the game from a regular scheduled 4 p.m. start to 7 p.m. 


There are also quarterback concerns entering Saturday’s contest. Eagle quarterback Kyle Vantrease took a hard hit early in the first quarter against Ball State and Helton and Vantrease both admitted to some discomfort throughout the rest of the game. Vantrease was held out one day this week for precautions but is expected to play Saturday according to Helton.  


On the Chanticleers side of things quarterback Grayson McCall is the two-time Sun Belt Player of the Year and left last week’s game with Georgia State after suffering an ankle injury. McCall has been snake bit the past two seasons prior to playing Georgia Southern as injuries prevented him from playing against the Eagles, but Coastal was still able to pull off victories in his absence. Coastal head coach Jamey Chadwell said after the game that McCall could have returned if needed, and this week said he expects McCall to play Saturday against the Eagles. 


McCall is one of the top quarterbacks in all of FBS and last season set the FBS record for passing efficiency with a 207.6 rating. His rating of 195.3 currently ranks first all-time as well. He is 24-2 overall as a starter and Eagle head coach Clay Helton is well aware of his dual threat ability. 


“Obviously Grayson is one of the top quarterbacks not only in our conference but in the country,” said Helton. “He is playing at such a high level and he doesn’t make mistakes. He has the ability to not only show elite arm strength, but also has the ability to run. We know he came out in the fourth quarter last week but we expect him to play Saturday. I think it will be important to limit big plays and try our best to contain him. We are going to have to execute against a really quality football team.” 


Another area for concern Saturday is in regards to turnovers, where the Chanticleers come in tied for first place in all of FBS in turnovers created with 14 on the season with seven fumble recoveries and seven interceptions. On the flip side the Eagles have struggled to create turnovers with one interception against FBS opponents and no fumble recoveries. The Eagles have not lost a fumble this year and have four interceptions. The good news is the Eagles were turnover free last Saturday against Ball State.  


“One of the keys to our success last week was not turning the ball over,” said Helton. “That is always critical in a very close game. If we turn the ball over even once and that could have been a very different game. We now go against a Coastal Carolina team who does an excellent job of getting the ball out. I think their back-end players do a great job of targeting the ball and you can tell they have made that a point of emphasis. We do a great job of working with our players on not fumbling the ball and we will have to make sure to keep that streak going this week.” 


Saturday’s Georgia Southern vs Coastal Carolina game is sold out, and will kick off at 7 p.m. in Conway S.C.