The Eagles have been competitive and have seemed to make giant strides under first year head coach Clay Helton. Last Saturday Helton provided a signature win as Georgia Southern battled back in the final minutes to knock off then No. 25 ranked James Madison 45-38. Helton hopes the Eagles can keep that momentum going this week as they have another tall task traveling to Old Dominion.
“We had a kind of playoff championship mindset last week against JMU,” said Helton. “We knew we were in a hole being 0-2 in our conference and we really needed to win that game which was that playoff mentality we walked into the game with. In watching the tape, the four turnovers really jump out at you as well as a non-offensive touchdown on the blocked punt. We also secured the ball on offense and told our team when we have had one or less turnover it has equaled a win. “
On the heels of their first conference win the Eagles are now in search of their first conference win on the road as they travel to 3-3, 2-0 Old Dominion. The Monarchs are coming off a 49-21 thrashing of previously unbeaten Coastal Carolina and like the Eagles have played a tough non-conference schedule which includes a victory at Virginia Tech to open the season.
“I think we both have Top-20 ranked schedules in the country,” said Helton. “We play nine of our 12 games against teams that went to bowl games last year and they are too. I think what that does is it creates resiliency and it creates a better football team. I think one of the reasons we were able to beat a team like James Madison is the quality of teams we have faced. It makes this a pivotal game for us as we wrap up October and go on that November run.”
The Eagles own a 2-0 lifetime record against Old Dominion and have not played since a 49-35 shootout in the FCS playoffs back in 2012 when the Eagles came back from a 35-21 deficit to outscore the Monarchs 28-0 in the fourth quarter. Old Dominion went into last week’s game with Coastal Carolina looking for an offensive identity and unfortunately for the Eagles they may have found it. Old Dominion rushed for 323 yards against the Chanticleers, and held a very tough Coastal running game to only 90 yards.
Leading the way last week was Blake Watson who rushed for 259-yards and three touchdowns. Quarterback Hayden Wolf was extremely efficient as he was 12-16 for 184 yards and a pair of touchdowns with no interceptions. For the season Watson has 531 yards and four scores while Wolff has thrown for 1,435 yards and 11 touchdowns.
“They finally got their running game going last week and you could tell that was a priority,” said Helton. “After averaging about 100 yards for a couple games you could tell there was a sense that they were planning on running the football and running it effectively. That created a great balance for their offense and we will see if they do that this week. They have been a 60 percent pass and 40 percent rush team up until last week but aside from that they are very well coached and you don’t see a lot of errors from them and they have been close in most all their ballgames.”
On defense the Monarchs are allowing the exact same amount they are scoring and that is 26.17 points per game. They have given up an average of 173 yards per game on the run and 278 yards per game through the air. Once again it is worth noting those totals were down considerably against Coastal from a rush defense standpoint.
“I have been very impressed with them defensively,” said Helton. “They have several athletes on the field and they remind us a lot of James Madison as far as the athletic piece. They have two very good defensive ends who can drop or rush. They have great pressure players inside and their secondary is very strong. They also have one of the top linebackers in the country as far as tackles go with Jason Henderson. It is a very talented defense that has not only kept them in games, but has helped them win games.”
A couple of Eagles have first-hand knowledge of the Monarchs as offensive coordinator Bryan Ellis coached against them while at Western Kentucky, and quarterback Kyle Vantrease played against them last year at Buffalo.
“We played them last year when I was at Buffalo and we were able to come out with a win, but it was not clean at all,” said Vantrease. “I am looking forward to the opportunity to go there this year and kind of right the wrongs that happened last year. They are a great team and we have seen that this year and the last part of last year they are a force to be reckoned with.”
“They have a tremendous pass rush,” said Ellis. “Henderson does a great job of running around and making tackles. I played these guys for six years in Conference USA and they always have good defensive backs and have always played us well. They have good coaches and it is a great environment there for a college football game. It will be a challenge in a lot of ways for us.”
The Eagles and the Monarchs are scheduled for a 3:30 kickoff Saturday in Norfolk, Va.