If there’s one thing Georgia Southern can be sure of following Saturday’s tough loss to Louisiana and a 1-3 start, it’s that head coach Chad Lunsford is still confident in his team.
To be sure, he isn’t quite as energetic as the chair-slamming, elbow-dropping version of himself that headlined the Eagles’ 10-win season last fall. But that exuberance has now taken the form of a more determined coach that knows that his team is at a crossroads while still saying that he knows they can turn things around.
“We’re sitting at a point where our backs are against the wall,” Lunsford said. “We’re hurting ourselves on snaps and in the red zone. We weren’t getting set in our last game and missing tackles. Most of all, we just aren’t finishing games.”
Lunsford’s positive attitude - even in the face of taking over a winless squad midway through 2017 - has been credited with a quick turnabout. Now comes more adversity and he’s hoping that the proper mindset will help as continued improvement in execution comes about.
“This is where your character comes into play,” Lunsford said. “We talk about character and having the right mentality. It’s easy to do those things when you’re winning. Now it’s time to show that when you’re 1-3 and have to respond.”
One particularly alarming sight for the 2019 Eagles has been the difficulty of completing the shotgun snaps. Starting center Jackob Cooper did just fine in the opener, but he was injured midway through the Maine game - leading to some damaging miscues - and was out of Saturday’s game due to a concussion as another handful of snaps went awry.
Shai Werts lines up just a few yards behind the ball, but if that space can’t be reliably covered by whoever is at center, everything in the Eagles’ run-first option attack gets its timing thrown off and makes things even tougher for a group that is already lagging behind in what it expects to produce.
WESLEY IN WAITING
The offense expects a big punch in the arm this week as junior slotback Wesley Kennedy is set to make his first appearance of the season after sitting out for a four-game academic suspension.
The Eagles have plenty of athletes and capable runners, but Kennedy has set himself apart over the last two seasons as the team’s most versatile offensive threat.
“We’re excited to have him back,” Lunsford said. “(Monday) is his birthday, so playing Thursday will be a present for him.”
Kennedy was the Eagles’ most dangerous receiver last season and his experience is likely to lead to different and expanded options on running plays when GS takes to the ground.
Despite the positivity, the increasingly bleak record - and the blowback it brings about on social media - isn’t lost on Lunsford. All of the momentum that built up through the Georgia Southern community as last season’s team caught fire has now turned into a lot of mumbling and complaints about what isn’t working this time around.
According to Lunsford, that’s something that he appreciates and is willing to lean into.
“We try not to get caught up in that,” Lunsford said. “Obviously, we see social media. We have to be on it for recruiting purposes.
“But I know our fan base. I know how much they care and how they see themselves as a part of this team. That’s one thing I love about Georgia Southern. So sure, we know there’s criticism, but that’s on us to fix.”