The Georgia Southern Eagles have had a couple extra days to prepare for Saturday’s Sun Belt matchup against Marshall and are hoping that will benefit them as they look to become bowl eligible. The Herd own a 4-2 lifetime edge over Georgia Southern but the two teams haven’t played since 1996. The Eagles are currently 5-5 after losing last Thursday to Louisiana on the road in a game in which both the offense and defense had their issues.
The Eagle offense lost another key starter as Derwin Burgess Jr. went out with a broken leg which will keep on out for the rest of the season. The Eagles managed to put up 358 yards passing and accumulated 24 first downs, but their 17 points was a season low.
On defense the Eagles continue to struggle as they are now ranked 128th out of 131 FBS teams in total defense. They are 129th in the nation in rushing defense and 112th in scoring defense where they are dead last in the Sun Belt conference.
“What really hurt us so badly in the Louisiana game was how poorly we played in the second quarter in all three phases of the game,” said coach Clay Helton. “On offense we were just 2-14 on third down and that is going to put your defense in a huge bind. We had five penalties which created some third and long situations on offense. On defense the problem was guys getting out of gaps. When we remained in our gaps like we did in the second half you see we only gave up nine points. We also gave up a big return on special teams so it was a perfect storm that created that separation in the second quarter.”
The Eagle defense will be tested this week as Marshall comes in featuring the top running back in the Sun Belt conference in terms of yardage gained as Khalan Laborn has rushed for 1,253 yards and is ranked sixth in the nation.
“He’s got some juice and he is a great running back,” said eagle senior defensive lineman Justin Ellis. “We haven’t been able to stop the run, so we know we are going to have to bring it. They are going to try and run the ball on us and it is our job to lock down and focus on our technique and play our gaps. He does a great job of making jump cuts and we have to be gap sound. If we do that, we will be able to stop the run, if not then you see what the result has been.”
On offense the Eagles are coming off their worst performance in terms of scoring and things won’t be any easier as the Herd come in with the NCAA’s 8th ranked scoring defense as they surrender just over 16 points per game.
“It’s pretty well documented as they are the eighth best scoring defense in the league,” said Helton. “They are big and fast and are unbelievable in their third down efficiency. They are one of the national leaders in what they do and it will be a challenge to put up points.”
In his first year in the Sun Belt conference Helton has been impressed by the talent level of the Sun Belt Conference and understands the urgency of winning at least one of the Eagles last two games in order to join a few of the other teams in the league in being bowl eligible.
“This week will be another battle as it seems all of the Sun Belt games are,” said Helton. “We may have as many as 10 teams in our league who are bowl eligible. I think the two extra days have really helped us heal up a little bit from some bumps and bruises from the other night. We understand we don’t get paid to make excuses. We get paid to find the answers. I was surprised by how we played last week in the second quarter. I don’t expect that to happen again. We get paid a lot of money to go win football games, so let's go win a football game.”
The one thing the Eagles have going for them is they are playing in Paulson Stadium where they own one of the highest winning percentages of all time.
“We are fighting for our bowl life right now,” said Ellis. “We have two opportunities at home in front of us and we have to get it done. The crowd here will be huge for us. Playing games in here is a huge advantage for us and when the crowd gets into it, we feed off the juice the crowd brings. Getting that sixth win at home would be he.”
Georgia Southern and Marshall are scheduled for a 6:00 start at Paulson Stadium.