By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
No passing fancy Elon a strong SoCon foe
Eagles must slow explosive Phoenix passing attack
100607 GSU FOOTBALL 01Web
Georgia Southern hopes to go to 2-1 in SoCon play with a victory Saturday over Elon. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

    Not long ago, Southern Conference teams didn’t worry much about Elon.

            As the league’s newest member, the Phoenix needed a few years to adjust to the level of competition in one of the Football Championship Subdivision’s top conferences. During that time Georgia Southern took its punches, hammering the Phoenix, 37-13, at their place in 2003 before outscoring them 97-21 in the next two meetings.

            Those blowouts are now a distant memory, and Elon’s days as a pushover have apparently screeched to a halt. They proved that much last October when the Eagles were forced to score with 63 seconds left in the game for a 28-21 win in Statesboro. This year, Elon looks even better.

            Under second-year coach Pete Lembo, the Phoenix (3-2, 1-1) have an offense that’s turning heads and putting up more passing yards than any team in the league (342.2 yards per game). True freshman quarterback Scott Riddle has been much of the reason why and has impressed coaches with poise and command uncharacteristic for a rookie.

            “It’s hard to stop a guy like Riddle,” said Eagle coach Chris Hatcher, whose squad visits Elon for a 3 p.m. game today.

            Elon’s quarterback currently leads the nation in completions (30.2 per game) and ranks fourth in passing yards (320.2) and sixth in total yards (321.8). No question Riddle and the Phoenix offense will be a huge challenge for a GSU defense allowing more than 242 passing yards a game.

            “He’s a good athlete, and they’ve got a good plan set up around him,” Eagle safety Chris Covington said. “We are just going to have to go out and play our game, make a few adjustments and I think we’ll be fine.”

            Today’s contest marks the beginning of a crucial two-game road swing for the 21st-ranked Eagles (4-1, 1-1), who head to No. 5 Appalachian State next weekend. Having already suffered a loss in conference play, GSU must win today to keep its SoCon title and playoff hopes alive. A victory could also be a huge momentum boost for an Eagle team that’s yet to face the league’s top programs.

            “Every SoCon game is important but going on the road is always going to be a little bit harder to get a win,” Covington said. “I think we’ve got a good game plan, and everybody’s really focused.”

            With numerous players banged up, the Eagles will be forced to delve deeper into their depth chart today. GSU has lost running backs Zeke Rozier and Sean Gray, who was injured on the final play of the South Dakota State game, for the season, and a pair of key receivers, Mike McIntosh and Raja Andrews, aren’t expected to play today. Offensive lineman Dio Herrera is out for the third straight game and running backs Lamar Lewis, Mike Hamilton, Dusty Reddick and Chris Teal have all had their share of bumps and bruises.

            Despite the injuries, the Eagles continue to lead the nation in rushing (357.4 yards per game) and total offense (494) while scoring more than 43 points a week, which leads the SoCon. With Jayson Foster at quarterback and a veteran offensive line, Elon’s defense knows it could be a long day.

            “We’ve got to play our best football game of the year,” Lembo said. “We’ve got to step up and respond. We haven’t played real well on defense the last two weeks, so we’ve got to do a better job of tackling than we’ve done. It starts with pursuit and guys flying to the football and then obviously being able to wrap up. It’s a week where good fundamentals will go as far as anything you do schematically.

            “Offensively, while we’ve been productive, in each game we’ve had a lull at some point. We’ve got to figure out a way to work through that and play 60 minutes there as well.”

            Along with Riddle, the Eagles also have to contend with the best pair of receivers in the conference, sophomore Terrell Hudgins and senior Michael Mayers. Those two will command attention, but Georgia Southern has to be careful not to forget about the run as Elon likes to lull defenders to sleep by throwing pass after pass.

            Both defenses give up a lot of points and yards, and Georgia Southern’s has done a better job of creating turnovers the last two games.

            “As long as we are flying around and playing hard, that’s what I look for the most, and we’re doing that right now,” Hatcher said. “The best way to stop their offense is to keep them on the sideline.”