Georgia Southern has a storied history of championship-caliber football teams. And while those types of teams usually need to be well-rounded in order to achieve status, it’s been a tradition at Georgia Southern to throw its belief and support of each season’s team in the direction that the offense has gone.
That trend isn’t without reason. Georgia Southern has built one of the strongest and most consistent offensive identities in all of college football as a team that will run an option attack right at opponents and keep running it - win or lose - until it gets results.
So it’s a bit ironic that Georgia Southern will open up its Sun Belt Conference schedule on Saturday against a Louisiana squad that will be trying to spread the Eagles’ bread and butter onto the Paulson Stadium turf.
Sure, the Ragin’ Cajuns don’t run the triple option, but their seemingly never-ending stable of capable ball carriers have been putting up numbers over the first four weeks of play that rival some of Georgia Southern’s best showings.
Louisiana is rushing for over 300 yards per game and is currently a top-5 rushing team in the nation and leads the entire FBS with 18 rushing touchdowns over its first four games.
And the truth is, the Georgia Southern offense can’t expect to win on Saturday by beating Louisiana at its own game.
Injury questions and ongoing suspensions will continue to limit the maximum effectiveness of the Eagles’ ground game. And even with substitutes playing capably, penalties have continually killed big plays and taken points off the board for Georgia Southern the further lessen the effectiveness of its offense.
While every Eagle fan - as well as the players and coaches - hope that Saturday will be a breakout game for the offense, it’s the Georgia Southern defense that could be key to notching a win and getting the Sun Belt season off to a good start.
There’s no question that stopping the ULL run game will be a challenge, but it’s also been proven that the GS defense isn’t one to give up rushing yards easily. While each of the Eagles’ first three opponents preferred to move the ball through the air, play by the Eagles’ front seven made that their only way to consistently pick up yardage.
Georgia Southern went a long way towards getting itself back on the right track with last season’s 10-3 mark and bowl victory. But one of the common sound bytes coming out of the locker room throughout the offseason was that the team was more focused on how it finished third in its division and lost a pair of games that would have put it in position to win a Sun Belt title.
So perhaps it’s fitting that Saturday’s matchup will face a balance of power on opposing sides of the ball that is in stark contrast to what fans are used to seeing at Paulson Stadium. For everything that has been gained back by the Eagles over the last 13 months, this is still an Eagle team that sits at 1-2, is expected to be an Sun Belt also-ran, and is an underdog that is expected to get out-rushed in its own house against a conference rival in a few days.
Maybe the GS defense will rise to the occasion and cage up the Cajuns. Maybe the offense will awake and prove that it is still a gold standard for rushing attacks. Hopefully both will happen at the same time.
But regardless of how things eventually play out, the current state of affairs holds true.
Georgia Southern is a team with a lot of promise on both sides of the ball that hasn’t shown its best in either aspect so far. If the Eagles want to be the Sun Belt contenders they believe themselves to be, both of those units need to start living up to their potential sooner rather than later.