The Georgia Southern team that fans saw in the first half of Saturday’s season opening win over West Georgia bared very little resemblance to the group that lined up for the Eagles after halftime. But despite the glaring disparity, first-year GSU coach Chris Hatcher said he didn’t make any second-half adjustments on either side of the ball.
“It just came down to who wanted it more, and it was really good to see our guys bow up and play well,” Hatcher said.
Georgia Southern trailed 21-10 at the half and had just 135 offensive yards to UWG’s 255 and four first downs to the Wolves’ 14. The Eagles were 0-for-5 on third-down conversions, had been penalized five times for 35 yards, were on the wrong end of a 19:52 to 10:08 time of possession discrepancy and had lost one fumble.
“We had a chance to put the game away early, but we just kind of floundered around,” Hatcher said. “We didn’t get that killer instinct like we’ve got to have. Then defensively, we just didn’t tackle well, and that’s the bottom line. We were trying to knock people out instead of wrapping them up.”
At halftime Hatcher told his players they were the better football team, to do a better job of tackling, hang on to the football, stop making silly penalties and not to get into third-and-long situations.
Apparently, the Eagles were listening. While the GSU defense pitched a second-half shutout, the offense was unstoppable against the worn-down Wolves. Georgia Southern rolled out 466 offensive yards in the final two quarters, compared to UWG’s 83, and put up 35 unanswered points.
Junior safety Chris Covington said the Eagles were simply out-executed in the first half and performed better later in the game.
“I always believe that we’re in the game and always believe I’ve got a chance to win a football game,” Hatcher said. “My (challenge) was I had to convey that to our football team. Sure enough, they responded in a great way.”
Leading the defense
A trio of juniors, cornerback Brandon Jackson, linebacker Quentin Taylor and Covington led the Eagle defense with seven tackles apiece Saturday.
It was Taylor’s GSU debut after transferring from Ole Miss in January and Covington’s first game on defense since leading the team in rushing a year ago. Troy transfer Henry Chubb, also playing his on GSU’s defense for the first time, finished with six tackles, one interception and one pass breakup.
Senior end Joey Tuttle also had a good night, recording one sack, two tackles for loss and three tackles.
Praise for the OL
Hatcher had high praise for Georgia Southern’s offensive line, a veteran group coming off of a solid 2006. The Eagles started four seniors up front – left tackle Brad Williams, center Jesse Suarez, right guard Marcelo Estrada and right tackle Russell Orr. Junior Dio Herrera was the starting left guard.
The group didn’t allow a sack Saturday, continuing a trend it set last year when it led the nation in fewest sacks allowed last season with six.
“Those are the guys we’re going to have to lean on all season long,” Hatcher said. “They came out and really played well. We sit here and talk about how they’re a senior bunch and they have played in a bunch of games, but they’re freshmen in our system. It took them a little while just to learn that if you make a mistake, you get called for holding, don’t worry about it, we’ll be able to overcome it.”
Georgia Southern hits the road Saturday for a 7 p.m. game at Coast Carolina. The Chanticleers are 1-1 on the year after Saturday’s 28-21 home win over Winston-Salem State and the previous week’s 23-18 loss at Delaware State.
Coastal finished with 397 offensive yards Saturday behind quarterback William Richardson, who completed 16 of 21 attempts for 301 yard and one touchdown. The Chanticleers are defending Big South Conference champions after a 9-3 2006 season highlighted by a 29-27 victory over then-No. 3 Furman. They advanced to the playoffs, but fell at Appalachian State 45-28 in the opening round.
Georgia Southern is 1-0 against Coastal after last year’s 38-31 win at Paulson Stadium. Saturday’s game will be televised by SportsSouth.
Alex Pellegrino can be reached at (912) 489-9413.