The 2020 Georgia Southern football season may feel a lot like the 2019 season, aside from the COVID-19 related issues.
The Eagles opened the season much like last year with a lackluster home win against an FCS opponent. They followed that up with a matchup against a Top-20 ranked team on the road in which they were a double-digit underdog.
Last season the Eagles held a lead against Minnesota, until the Gophers scored the go-ahead touchdown with 13 seconds to go.
Saturday the Eagles battled back after being down late to a ranked team and gave themselves a chance for one of their best wins since becoming an FBS member. Georgia Southern took the lead with less than a minute to go, only to see Louisiana march downfield, and score the game winning 54-yard field goal as time expired.
The Eagles showed much improvement in many areas of the game, but have to come away from Saturday’s game thinking about all the missed opportunities.
First and foremost the Ragin’ Cajuns were playing the game without eight key players, including their top running back, according to ESPN. It wasn’t revealed how many were out for COVID-19 issues. Louisiana then lost their second best running back in the first quarter due to injury.
The door was open for an Eagle team at pretty much full strength to pull the upset, but the opportunities continued. On their opening offensive drive the Eagles got down to the 3-yard line and opted to go for it on 4th and 1 instead of kicking a field goal. For the 29th game in a row the Eagles failed to score on their opening drive as Werts was tackled for a 4-yard loss.
Trailing 17-10 with just over eight minutes to play in the game the Eagles brought Alex Raynor out for a 41-yard field goal attempt which was wide right, and another opportunity to get within a score was lost.
The most obvious lost opportunity came with just under three minutes left in the game. Quarterback Shai Werts hit freshman tight end Beau Johnson down the near sideline. Johnson did a good job shaking off a tackle, but just before reaching the goal line he fumbled and the ball skittered through the end zone.
The play was initially ruled an Eagle touchdown, but was overturned on review, and Louisiana took over possession at the 20-yard line.
The Eagle defense then did their job in forcing the Cajuns to punt, and Shai Werts led the Eagles downfield. An incredible catch by Khaleb Hood resulted in a 28-yard touchdown. Coach Lunsford elected to go for the win instead of the tie, and Werts did an amazing job of reversing field and staying on his feet before finding Darion Anderson for the 2-point conversion.
Things were set up for the upset victory, but the Eagles defense was unable to make the plays when they had to. Louisiana quarterback Levi Lewis moved the team to the Eagle 36-yard line, and much maligned kicker Nate Snyder split the uprights from 53-yards away as time expired for the victory.
Last year the Eagles built on the Minnesota game of missed opportunities and after a loss at home to Louisiana, finished the regular season going 6-2, and advanced to The Cure Bowl.
Will the same thing hold true this year? The Eagles will look to bounce back as they head back to the Louisiana to take on UL Monroe this Saturday. They still have some other tough challenges ahead including matchups at Paulson against Troy and Appalachian State, as well as a November 21st game at Army and their season finale at Georgia State.
It’s a testament to the coaches and players that they kept giving themselves chances on the road against a ranked team. Opportunities should continue to present themselves throughout the season. Whether the Eagles can take advantage of them or not remains to be seen.