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Pivotal clash in Sun Belt East
GS Football
Georgia Southern safety Tyrell Davis, center, crosses the goal line as teammates clear the way after intercepting a Louisiana-Monroe pass in the fourth quarter at Paulsen Stadium. The interception and score came in the final moments of action, 38-28 Eagles victory on Saturday, Oct. 21. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

The Georgia Southern Eagles have a better record than they had last year at this time as they are 5-2 overall and 2-1 in Sun Belt play. They are coming off of a 38-28 victory over a Louisiana-Monroe team which had previously lost a pair of one-point games to Appalachian State and Texas State. So why is there so much negativity on social media and message boards? 

Most of the negativity is directed at the Eagle offense which failed to get into the end zone until the final minute of the game two weeks ago at James Madison. The unit was shut out in the second half of the ULM game. The defense scored the final touchdown of the game, and set the offense up inside the 10-yard line on their final three possessions of the first half which resulted in two touchdowns and a field goal. 

Head coach Clay Helton admits he would have like to have seen more production from the offense, but is also quick to point out the running game was solid Saturday, evident in senior Jalen White being named Sun Belt offensive player of the game after rushing for 163 yards and two touchdowns. 

“My dad told me to celebrate all wins, but to also be real and make sure that you address issues,” Helton said. “There were plenty of things we did great Saturday, but we also turned the ball over four times and gave up three sacks and also had two critical errors on special teams. We celebrate going 1-0 on a week, but I appreciate that this team understands the reality of making sure we clean things up in a hurry as we have a great Georgia State team coming in here this week.” 

Offensively the Eagle players understand the importance of holding onto the ball better and know they could be in for a shootout against the Panthers. 

“We know we have to do a better job of finishing the game,” said senior offensive lineman Brian Miller. “We were able to score in the first half but we were just dry in the second half. We need to not have to put it in our defense’s hands, but we appreciate what they were able to do in helping us out Saturday. We know what Georgia State is capable of doing and we know we are going to have to be able to put points on the board.” 

Quarterback Davis Brin has already been named Sun Belt player of the week and entered the James Madison game as one of the top 10 quarterbacks in the country in completion percentage and yards passing per game. In the last two games Brin has struggled a bit throwing for 273 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions against JMU. Saturday against ULM he threw for a season-low 240 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. He also fumbled once and has been sacked six times in the past two games. 

Helton said after the game they have total confidence in Brin at quarterback but also praised the limited snaps of backup J.C. French. When asked if French’s role may be expanded this week Helton had no comment due to game plan purposes. 

“J.C. French has been able to come in and supply a little bit of the pass game, but also some quarterback runs,” Helton said. "He had two big runs last week. One to set up a third and manageable and the other picked up a first down. To be able to take some of those hits off of Davis is important, especially when you go into week eight."

The Eagles came out of Saturday’s game pretty healthy which is important this week as they have a short turnaround before hosting Georgia State Thursday night at 7:30. The Panthers are 6-1 overall and 3-1 in Sun Belt play. They are averaging just over 30 points per game and giving up nearly 23 points per contest which is nearly identical to the Eagles. This result will put the winner in a great position in the eastern division of the Sun Belt which is something coaches and players are aware of. 

One of the keys to the Panthers' success has been the play of quarterback Darren Grainger. He is currently averaging 233 yards passing per game with 10 touchdowns. He is also second on the team in rushing with 368 yards and five touchdowns behind leading rusher Marcus Carroll who has 852 yards and 10 touchdowns. 

“He was really good last year and we knew with every rep he got he would continue to improve,” Helton said. “He is a zone-read quarterback and does such a good job with that and they are elite at that RPO. They have fast perimeter players and an unbelievable running back with Carroll and having a decision maker like Grainger at quarterback makes them a true triple threat.” 

The Georgia Southern defense stepped up last week, holding ULM to just 28 yards rushing and creating four turnovers. Players know things will be even tougher if they have to go up against Grainger, who left the game last week after a hard hit, but did return. 

“We have to understand who he is as a player and what he is able to do,” said linebacker Marques Watson-Trent. “He is a great player who can throw the ball and run the ball. We know that and we respect that and are game planning for that. We are doing what we can to minimize what he can do and not forgetting they also have a great running game led by Carroll.” 

Georgia Southern and Georgia State are scheduled for a 7:30 start Thursday at Paulson Stadium in a game that will air on ESPN2. The Eagles will also honor former head coach Paul Johnson at the end of the first quarter for his induction into this year’s College Football Hall of Fame.