When Georgia Southern announced they were going to host BYU in 2021 it caused quite a commotion within Eagle nation as after so many years the Eagles were finally going to get a big-name school to come to Paulson Stadium.
Saturday it becomes a reality that is somewhat bittersweet. The Cougars come in as the highest ranked team to play in Paulson Stadium as they are currently ranked No. 14 in the nation, the part that prevents total excitement is the fact that it has been a tumultuous season for the Eagles who come in with a record of 3-7 and are heavy underdogs Saturday.
The good news is the Eagles do enter Saturday’s game on the heels of a victory. Last Saturday the Eagle offense showed some signs of life in a 38-30 win at Texas State. Starting quarterback Cam Ransom seemed to breathe some life into the offense who hadn’t scored a combined 38 points in their previous three games. Even when Ransom left early in the second half with an injury Justin Tomlin managed to keep the Eagles on track and lead them to 21 second half points.
“I finally feel like we put it all together this past Saturday,” said interim head coach Kevin Whitley, “I feel like our kids really responded well to the adversity. Cam looked really good when he was in the game, he has a sprained AC joint in his shoulder but we are hopeful he will be available Saturday. I thought Justin came in and played well and we played much better on offense.”
BYU comes into the game with a record of 8-2 and are averaging 33 points per game and have really been on a roll lately having scored 66 points against Virginia and 59 points in their last outing against Idaho State.
Leading the way on offense is quarterback Jaren Hall who has thrown for 1,995 yards and 16 touchdowns in eight games. Baylor Romney has been sharp in relief with 584 yards passing and six touchdowns. The Cougars have a deep receiving corps led by Nacua Puka with 671 yards receiving and three touchdowns, while Neil Pau’u has 526 yards and six scores. The rushing game is led by Tyler Allgeier who has 1,162 yards and 17 touchdowns.
“Any time you mention BYU you know you will be going up against a really tough football team,” said Whitley. “Offensively Tyler Allgeier is phenomenal. He has over 1,100 yards but what's most impressive is about 800 of those yards have come after the first contact, so we really have to do a good job of tackling him and wrapping up.”
“When we slow Allgeier down we have to worry about the deep ball,” said Whitley. “They have some big tall receivers so we have to be able to defend the jump balls and if we don’t catch it we have to make sure they don’t catch it.”
The Cougar defense has given up some points this year as opponents are averaging 243 yards per game. They have allowed 146 yards per contest on the ground, and 251 per game through the air.
“Offensively we have to do a good job of mixing up run and pass against their defense,” said Whitley. “We have to try and control the clock and keep their offense off the field. If we can establish the run and throw when we want to throw it and get some explosive plays that is the game plan.”
The thing the Eagles should have on their side Saturday is emotion and crowd support. Saturday is senior day and the Eagles have a large number of players who will be playing their last game at Paulson Stadium.
“I think any time you have a quality team like BYU coming and a packed crowd it’s going to be really special,” said Whitley. I told the seniors you will never forget your last game in Paulson. I remember mine like it was yesterday, it was November 23, 1991. I explained that the other seniors I was with I still keep in touch with to this day.”
“For me this is going to be my last home game,” said Randy Wade who came back for his sixth year this season. “I came back for an extra year and it is really upsetting that this is our last home game. What better way to go out though, as we can go out with a bang with a win Saturday.”
While the Cougars are expecting a large number of their fans in the stands Saturday the vast majority of the sold-out crowd will be supporting the Eagles in their closest thing they will have this year to playing in a bowl game.
“I’m very excited as I have never seen a packed crowd at Paulson,” said sophomore running back Jalen White. “I heard they are going to have a lot of fans and we already know how loud Paulson can get. Our coaches have preached to us younger guys to make sure we send our seniors out the right way because when we are seniors that is what we will want, so we are motivated for this one for sure.”
Georgia Southern and Brigham Young are scheduled for a 4 p.m. kickoff Saturday at Paulson Stadium.