On its surface, Georgia Southern’s double-overtime win over South Alabama on Thursday was huge in terms of keeping the Eagles in contention for a Sun Belt title and advancing them closer to another bowl bid.
But there is still a lot of work to do for this team to get where it thinks that it can be.
It’s strange the way things work out over the course of a football game. If it was left to the Eagles’ main focus for each game, Thursday should have been a runaway victory.
Georgia Southern came away with the only turnover of the night. The Eagles easily outrushed South Alabama, ran nearly three times as many offensive plays and were flagged just five times - most in non-crucial situations.
And yet Georgia Southern needed to mount a last-ditch drive to force overtime, then survive a missed field goal in the first extra period before escaping Mobile with a victory.
That sounds about right for what we’ve seen from this season’s Eagle squad.
Georgia Southern has had bad plays here and there in every contest, but can’t be accused of playing a bad game. It’s also had plenty of big plays, but no one would say that the Eagles have put forth a complete effort to date.
For a 1-3 team that needed Thursday’s win in order to keep most of its goals alive, the win was enough. There are plenty of offensive questions and a few blown defensive coverages (on a night where the Eagles otherwise dominated) that need to be fixed if the team wants to get the most out of 2019, but the one absolute ‘must-have’ entering the South Alabama game was simply to get a win. The Eagles got it, so now it’s on to the next step of improving the team.
Once again, a bye week appears exactly where it can be of maximum benefit for Georgia Southern. The Eagles weren’t able to take advantage of an extra week to prepare before their Sun Belt Conference opener, but now get another break before a pair of home games where they will likely be favored and can take their record above the .500 mark - along with building confidence - before facing the most challenging part of their schedule.
To be sure, there is still plenty of work to do for this team.
The final drive of regulation inspires a lot of hope as it showcased just how fast the Eagle offense can get down the field, even without going to the air or getting creative with playcalling. But there needs to be even more improvement if Georgia Southern is going to be more than just an outside contender in the Sun Belt race.
The ultimate solution to transforming into a team capable of winning the conference is for the offense to hit a higher gear. The Eagle defense has been marred by some lapses that have hurt, but has been more consistent overall and figures to match up well against the remainder of the schedule.
As for the offense, the search for a spark continues.
Shai Werts appears to be at full strength, or at least close to it. The Eagles run deep on the depth chart at all of their skill positions, and while the offensive line is banged up, there is still plenty of size and athleticism that should be able to execute in offensive coordinator Bob DeBesse’s system.
In short, the team has a bye week to prepare for an all-out sprint that will make or break it over the next two months.
There are a few games remaining in which the Eagles currently seem to be prohibitive favorites. That was the thought going into the South Alabama game as well. The Eagles need to figure out how to follow through more emphatically on those supposed wins.
Likewise, there are challenging road games remaining at Appalachian State, Troy and Arkansas State. And it will take an effort far above what has been shown so far if Georgia Southern wants to walk out of any of those venues with a win.
The win at South Alabama was good. It was necessary. It was likely vital to any plans that Georgia Southern has moving forward.
It was also just one step. And the rest of the steps leading to bigger goals are much steeper and will require even more from the team.