After the Georgia Southern Eagles squeaked out a 30-25 win over FCS opponent Gardner Webb in their season opener coach Chad Lunsford said the team and coaches felt that was not acceptable and not the way they wanted to play, particularly in the second half.
Saturday the Eagles took an even bigger step backwards as instead of getting outscored 19-10 in the second half, they got shut out 28-0 in route to a humiliating 38-6 loss to Florida Atlantic, a team they beat 20-3 a year ago at Paulson Stadium.
“At Georgia Southern you don’t get beat like this,” said Lunsford. “This is embarrassing, and all 10 fingers are pointed at me. The way we played in the second half last week, and then not showing up in this one a lot of soul searching has to happen.”
In a score normally found only after playing a Top-10 ranked team the Eagles gave up 28 first downs, 332 yards passing, and 197 yards rushing and saw the Owls more than double their own offensive output of total yards.
“I am really disappointed in the game Saturday and to our start to the season, "Lunsford said at a press conference Monday. “I feel like we should be a lot better, and a lot further along than we are. I feel like we have seen flashes, but we haven’t had consistency. I thought we started the game off well with a 95-yard scoring drive. We turned the ball over and the momentum shifted, and things rolled downhill for us from there and we never got it back.”
The problems for the Eagles have been on both sides of the ball. Projected starter Justin Tomlin missing the first two games hasn’t helped matters on offense, but Tomlin doesn’t play defense and that was expected to be a strength with the Eagles having seniors in eight of their 11 starting positions on defense.
“I don’t know if you can pinpoint one particular area but obviously the deep ball has hurt us,” said Lunsford. “This past week we had miscommunication on our back end giving up passes. We have to figure out if we are expecting too much from those guys. We have talent but have some inexperience out there and maybe we have to simplify things.”
The other thing Lunsford was frustrated with was how the Eagles are doing with overcoming adversity as he mentioned how things rolled downhill after the early fumble in the red zone.
“We are really struggling when momentum shifts in the games," said Lunsford. “There are going to be shifts in momentum in every game you play but we are having trouble resetting. I feel like when something doesn’t go our way, I feel our guys are trying to not make a mistake instead of turning it loose and playing free. With that the fingers have to go to me.”
Message boards and social media lit up Saturday night with Eagle fans voicing their frustration after the 32-point loss. Many Eagle players came to their team and coaches defense and exchanges were quite heated at times. Lunsford said that can be expected but said this is the time we are living in and didn’t feel things got too out of hand.
“If you play better things will calm down on social media,” said Lunsford. “For me, if I don’t want to hear it I don’t get on it. I do think you need to talk to the players about social media because that is part of their lives. I don’t think you ban people for doing it.”
“I think our guys want to do well, and they are frustrated when they get on social media,” said Lunsford. “We tell them you are part of a program and part of something bigger than yourself and you have to represent that. I think there are things that need to be addressed and there is family business to attend to. We are always on the lookout, and we are always going to try and help our guys do a good job with it.”
Lunsford knows the Eagles will have their hands full this Saturday with Top-20 ranked Arkansas but feels this week will be a chance to move forward and thinks the season is far from over.
”I don’t see this as a talent issue, I feel we have plenty of talent. “I do think there may be some inexperience that may be hurting us a little. We as coaches can help that by not putting them in a position where they won’t be successful. I feel strongly as the leader of this program that us simplifying things for our players and continuing to talk about what Georgia Southern football needs to look like will help.”
We have to make sure we are playing 60 minutes of football,” said Lunsford. “I don’t think there is any panic here. We went to work Sunday and there seems to be a really good vibe and they are bought in. I think everyone in this building wants to win and get better and wants to show Eagle Nation we have it inside us to do it.”
Lunsford went on to say Justin Tomlin will start at quarterback Saturday and that Cam Ransom did not practice Sunday due to swelling in his ankle. Lunsford also said he did not expect running back J.D. King to play Saturday at Arkansas as he continues to recover from a setback following his off-season knee surgery.