It would be an understatement to call 2019 a rollercoaster season for the Georgia Southern football team.
The year began with an embarrassing loss at an LSU team that is starting to look like a potential national champion. A near miss against a Minnesota team that eventually made the top-10 followed soon after, as did a thorough beating by Sun Belt West front-runner UL-Lafayette.
But then the Eagles ripped off two straight overtime victories and ran away with a win over New Mexico State before upsetting a nationally-ranked rival in Appalachian State.
The high-point of the GS season was quickly given a shot to the side in a loss at Troy, but a win over UL Monroe has the Eagles bowl-eligible for 2019 and still dreaming of bigger things, even if the momentum of the season is hard to pinpoint at any given moment.
“We know what we are and what we’re capable of,” GS coach Chad Lunsford said during Monday’s press conference at Paulson Stadium. “For a lot of the season, we were searching for an identity, and now we have one. We have been through a lot, but that means that we now know how to approach some situations.”
The Eagles’ impressive 51-29 victory over UL Monroe last weekend qualified the team for its prospective third bowl in program history and also kept the team in the running for a Sun Belt championship game appearance.
Making the fixes
There was plenty of reason to be concerned about ULM heading into last weekend.
Georgia Southern was dismantled by a Troy offense that showcased an adept passer and an up-tempo spread passing attack a week prior. UL Monroe figured to have the same weapons — plus a more mobile quarterback in Caleb Evans — to continue to pick at the seams of the GS defense.
“Coming off of last week, I thought we did a good job of getting prepared,” Lunsford said. “After watching the film, our guys were just really into it. They responded from the previous week.
"We challenged our team to be player-led this week. They led all week and then took it into the game.”
Where Troy excelled, ULM found nothing but trouble. Georgia Southern intercepted Evans twice and never allowed the Warhawks’ tempo-driven offense to get into a groove.
3 Times the fun
Georgia Southern preaches consistency from all aspects of its team as a means to win any game.
The Eagles got a stellar effort from all players involved once again as the team scored on offense, defense and special teams in the same game for the third time this season.
The GS offense had plenty of bright moments and the defense continued to slowly build another impressive turnover margin on the national scoreboard. But it was once again the special teams that cape up with some of the biggest game-changers.
Najee Thompson had yet another big hit to deny a punt return in a big situation. GS punter Anthony Beck had a fourth kick of the season muffed an ultimately turned into a new GS possession. And the night was capped off by Monquavion Brinson stepping in front of a prospective onside kick and cruising for yet another GS touchdown.
Another tough customer
Georgia Southern is back in contention for a spot in the Sun Belt championship game and next takes on a team in a familiar situation.
Arkansas State has been the Sun Belt's most consistent performer over the last decade. The Red Wolves were expected to contend for a conference title this season, but have suffered just as many key injuries as the oft-maligned Georgia Southern line corps.
But — like the Eagles — Arkansas State has thrived on adversity. The Red Wolves can still boast an aggressive defensive front, a borderline All-American receiver and and offense that gets tough points when needed.
Two patchworked teams will play in Jonesboro, Ark. on Saturday, with the winner still — somehow — in play for a league championship.