The Georgia Southern Eagles became Bowl eligible last Thursday as they defeated Georgia State 44-27, improving to 6-2 overall and 3-1 in Sun Belt play. Coming off a short week, the Eagles have had a few extra days to get ready for a big road game Saturday at Texas State (5-3, 2-2 Sun Belt).
The Eagles jumped out to an impressive 27-7 halftime lead against Georgia State, and despite another third quarter hiccup, were able to pull things together and finished strong with a couple of turnovers from the Eagle defense.
“Having coached for 30 years you know there is going to be a momentum swing in the game,” said Eagle coach Clay Helton. “I got with the guys before the fourth quarter started and said 'If I told you before the game, we would be up two scores going into the fourth in a rivalry game against Georgia State would you be happy? Everyone agreed they would. I then said it’s now about finishing the game. I was so proud of how they finished and had a dominant fourth quarter,”
One of the key stats in Georgia Southern victories this season has been the turnover margin. Saturday the Eagles won the battle 3-2. When the Eagles have lost the turnover margin, they have lost the game. This Saturday Helton feels the same thing holds true, not only for the Eagles but for the Texas State Bobcats as well.
“They have a dynamic offense much like Georgia State,” Helton said. You are not going to stop them, but when you ask where can you get ahead, it is through turnovers. When you get three turnovers you can create separation. When you look at the losses for Texas State it has been turnovers. Against Troy they had four turnovers. We are 6-0 when we get three or more turnovers and we have to try and do that again Saturday.”
As well as Georgia Southern has played at home this year (5-0), they are 1-2 on the road. Helton feels the team played a complete game in Thursday’s win over Georgia State, and thinks what they need next is to prove they can win a big game on the road.
“One thing we have to watch out for is looking ahead at what could be in the position we are currently in,” Helton said. “We also need to be able to go into a hostile environment and play to the standard we just played. We challenged the team to have their best game in all three phases last week and they did. Now that you have set that standard you need to go out there and be consistent. This is a great challenge and could be a huge step forward for us.”
Texas State is one of the most balanced offensive attacks in the country. Auburn transfer quarterback T.J. Finley is throwing for over 275 yards per game and has 15 touchdown passes. Running back Ismail Mahdi is averaging over 100 yards rushing per contest and has eight touchdowns in helping the Bobcat offense to over 35 points per game.
“They are a lot like Georgia State as both teams play count is in the high 70’s.” Helton said. “You have to try and be good on first and second down. Everybody is going to get their yards so it is about points. Are you going to get the drive stops, punts and turnovers to slow them down. Yards are bright and shiny but points win games.”
Finley is not only impressive in his stats, but in his stature. Standing 6-7 and 255-pounds he is one of the largest quarterbacks in college football.
“The quarterback is not only a big boy, but he’s very athletic,” said Eagle linebacker Khadry Jackson. “He can throw on the run, or from the pocket. We have to do a good job of bringing him down. We have to be good on first and second down so we can put them in a spot where we know what they will have to do. If we can get them in third and long, we can pin our ears back and rush the quarterback. That is something we like to do.”
The lone Eagle from the Lone Star State is quarterback Davis Brin who is excited to be able to play so close to home and have family and friends on hand.
“I grew up about an hour away from where we are playing,” Brin said. “It’s exciting to be back home. My mom today sent me a list of family and friends coming. We will have to make sure we bring our own energy and our own juice as we will not have the power of Paulson this time around.”
Georgia Southern and Texas State are scheduled for a 5 p.m. kickoff Saturday in San Marcos.