The Georgia Southern Eagle football team may have gotten in 13 games last year, but it was far from a typical season. The 13 games tied for the most in college football last season with many schools having to cancel games due to COVID-19 concerns.
The Eagles themselves had to do a lot of rescheduling and head coach Chad Lunsford admitted after the season they may have played at least one too many games.
This year, while COVID remains a concern, many teams are getting close to having 100 percent of their players and coaching staff vaccinated and it has given the Eagle players and coaches a little less to worry about as they are set to open the season Saturday at 6:00 against Garnder-Webb.
“In a game week last year, we would go in never really knowing if at any time the game could get called off, said Eagle senior running back Logan Wright. “This year we know we are ready to play, and we are ready to put on a show again.”
“There is definitely a weight off your shoulders this year,” said Eagle senior defensive lineman Dillon Springer. “Last year was hard. It was hard mentally and physically not knowing if you were going to play and not knowing which player may be out. This year is just a different feeling, and we are ready to get out there and ball.”
Knowing they will play the game, the biggest question remains who will start for the Eagles at quarterback. With Justin Tomlin set to miss the first two games of the season, the battle at quarterback remains between redshirt freshman Sam Kenerson, true freshman Cam Ransom and Tulane transfer Amare Jones, who hasn’t played quarterback since high school. Lunsford remained coy at his press conference Monday but did say he felt set on a starter though he wouldn’t reveal anything publicly.
“We definitely know what we are going to do but we are not going to let that be known publicly,” said Lunsford. “We will have the best person, or persons out there for the game Saturday. I think all three have done a phenomenal job. I can’t guarantee you will see all three, I can say you will see t least two. I think that once this game is over, we will assess how things went and that will kind of dictate the rest of the season.”
With COVID-19 restrictions lifted this year at Paulson Stadium, the players and coaches are excited about playing before a potentially packed stadium.
“Getting to open up the season at home with the power of Paulson Stadium, you just can't beat it,” said Lunsford. “Being at 100 percent capacity is exciting and I know our guys are ready and fired up.
The Eagle defense has helped carry the team the past few years and should once again be one of the strengths with quite a few quality returners across each line of defense. The Eagle offense has been what’s come under fire, but things showed steady improvement with the promotion of Doug Ruse to offensive coordinator. The tempo and the overall look of the offense should look a little different under Ruse, and while the Eagles may not rush for nearly 600 yards like the last time they played Gardner Webb, coaches and players are excited to show their progress.
“We feel like we have strengths and weapons all over the place,” said Wright. “All of our offensive line has started at some time over the past couple years, and we have a talented and deep group at receiver and running back as well as quarterback. Coach Ruse brings a different dynamic to the team with different schemes which I feel will give us a leg up on teams.”
The Eagles opposition Saturday will be the Gardner Webb Runnin’ Bulldogs. The two teams have met on three occasions with the Eagles leading the series 2-1. The last time the Eagles and Bulldogs met was in 2002 with the Eagles coming out on top 56-0 as they rushed for 591 yards and seven touchdowns.
The Bulldogs played a spring only schedule this year and went 4-4 as a member of the Big South Conference.
“We have a worthy opponent in Garnder Webb, and we have a lot of for Coach Lamb and his staff,’ said Lunsford. “When you look at their offense, they are well balanced in the run and pass. They have a few players on the offensive side of the ball that impress me in running back Narii Gaithers well as receiver and return specialist T.J. Luther and quarterback Bailey Fisher who came in from Tennessee Tech.”
“Defensively they are really a four-down front,” said Lunsford. They will jump into an odd defense and play corners coverage with a two-high safety look. They have a couple real good defensive lineman with Shai Thomas and then defensive back A.J. Thomas. We are looking forward to them coming here though and seeing what we can do.”
The Eagles and Runnin’ Bulldogs are set for a 6:00 kickoff at Paulson Stadium.