The last time the Georgia Southern football team took the field the NBA season was still five days away and the Atlanta Braves were two days away from starting the National League Championship Series against the Dodgers.
When the Eagles kick off Saturday night against Georgia State, it will have been 16 days since the last time the Eagles played a game. In the time since, evaluations have been made and there have been some pretty intense practices according to interim head coach Kevin Whitley.
“We have had some pretty hard-hitting practices the last two weeks,” said Whitley. “We did more hitting and conditioning the past two weeks than we have all season. We aren’t trying to run guys off but we want to want to find those guys who want to play at a high level.”
Not many people gave the Atlanta Braves much of a chance of advancing to the Word Series this year for the first time since 1999. Whitley used their story this year as motivation for the Eagle football team.
“I put up on our wall an article about the Atlanta Braves story this year,” said Whitley. “They had quotes about the Braves being a team on life support, and that many had already written their obituary. It also listed all the players that had gotten hurt and the players that had to step into starting roles.
“I went over with our team what had happened to the Braves and then what changed?” said Whitley. “What changed was they didn’t listen to the outside noise and believed in themselves. The Braves had the worst record of all the playoff teams but look where they are now. They gave us a lot of motivation that it can be done.”
If it is going to be done it starts Saturday night at Paulson Stadium against Georgia State. The Panthers lead the overall series with the Eagles 4-3 and while the Eagle players don’t want to admit it a rivalry seems to be brewing with the Panthers now having an edge.
“We have history with Appalachian State, but we feel we should dominate Georgia State so we don’t look at it as a rivalry,” said Eagle defensive back Justin Birdsong. “Teams are going to talk after they beat us regardless of who it is because it is everyone’s Super Bowl when they beat Georgia Southern whether we have won 15 games in a row or lost a bunch of games in a row.”
“When you think about a rivalry game the first thing that comes to mind is Appalachian State,” said Eagle running back Gerald Green. “The whole Georgia Southern versus Georgia State who is the real GSU thing is something I think fans more came up with. We are going to makes things right this weekend and stop all that rivalry nonsense.”
The Panthers came from behind last year to knock off the Eagles 30-24 as they scored the last 17 points of the game. This year Georgia State comes in with a record of 3-4 overall and 2-1 in conference play including having won their last two Sun Belt games over Texas State and ULM.
The Panthers have a balance offensive attack and are averaging 219 yards rushing per game and 166 yards passing per contest. Quarterbacks Darren Grainger and Cornelius Brown have split time this season and the rushing attack has been led by Tucker Gregg with 476 yards rushing while Grainger has 395 yards on the ground.
“On offense they did a really good last week against ULM running the football,” said Whitley. “They have some really good receivers and they have 10 starters back on offense which brings a lot to the table. They have some size outside and will be a challenge for our defense.”
The Panther defense is yielding 164 yards per game rushing and 250 yards per contest through the air.
“Defensively they really get after it,” said Whitley. “We are going to try and do what we do and mix it up a little bit by throwing the ball some. We have to be able to move the chains and really take care of the football.”
The Eagles and Panthers are set for a 6 p.m. kickoff at Paulson Stadium.