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Thursday night lights for Eagles
GS Football
Former Georgia Southern kicker Tyler Bass watches as his game-winning field goal splits the uprights to give the Eagles a 20-17 dvictory over South Alabama during last season's meeting in Mobile, Ala. Georgia Southern hosts the Jaguars tonight in a 7:30 p.m. kickoff at Paulson Stadium. - photo by Georgia Southern AMR

If the Georgia Southern Eagles want to avoid ‘also-ran’ status once again in the race for a Sun Belt Conference championship, they’ll have to hit high gear immediately as their margin of error has become razor-thin. 

Following a disheartening loss at Coastal Carolina last weekend, the Eagles now sit at 1-2 in conference play, with a 3-2 mark overall. With the setback in Conway, S.C. just a few days behind them, the Eagles jump right back into action tonight as they host South Alabama in a Thursday night 7:30 p.m. kickoff scheduled to air nationwide on ESPN.

“This game is a quick turnaround, but it’s an opportunity to get a bad taste out of our mouth,” GS coach Chad Lunsford said. “Around here, everyone expects us to play great every week and we expect the same of ourselves. That wasn’t the case (against Coastal Carolina). There’s a bit of a challenge with fixing last week’s mistakes and preparing for a new opponent in a short amount of time, but playing Thursday games is nothing new for us and we need to be ready.”

Looking at the history books, it appears that a visit from the Jaguars is just what the Eagles need. Since moving up to the Bowl Championship Subdivision in 2014, Georgia Southern has notched a win over South Alabama each and every fall and the Jags are the only conference team that the Eagles have never failed to beat.

Then again, 2020 has been a strange and different year - and that trend holds true with the Jaguars.

South Alabama is currently enjoying its best ever start as an FBS program. While the Jags have the same 3-2 overall mark as the Eagles, South Alabama holds a perfect 2-0 mark in conference play and is currently in the driver’s seat in the Sun Belt West despite few holding high expectations for the team entering the season.

“I’ve studied some tape on them, watching personnel to see how we match up,” Lunsford said. “This is an improving team that is coming into the mold of what (USA coach Steve Campbell) is trying to do. This is a team that played sound defense against us last year and it’s going to be a challenge for us to switch gears and defend a spread offense that likes to stretch the field and go play-action pass a week after playing an option team.”

As is the case every week, Lunsford stressed that it will take his team competing and succeeding in all phases of the game in order to be successful. 

That said, the main focus for fans over the last few days has been the Eagles’ offense - or lack thereof.

Despite sporting experience along the offensive line and a deep pool of skill position players with two and even three previous years of starting duties, the Georgia Southern attack has mostly spun its wheels aside from a 41-0 win against a UMass team jump-starting its season on short notice. While fourth-year starting quarterback Shai Werts has continued to make big plays in big spots and running backs J.D. King and Wesley Kennedy III routinely show glimpses of their home run potential, the consistency and ability to sustain and maximize drives continues to elude the Eagles.

That hit-and-miss trend was mostly stuck in ‘miss’ mode against Coastal Carolina. The Eagles punted eight times and averaged fewer than four yards per play and the offense’s constant 3-and-out drives in the second half seemed to play a big role in the GS defense running out of steam in the fourth quarter.

“We should be a better offense and we should be more consistent,” Lunsford said. “We had a bad game and I’m not going to step away from that. We’ve taken the last couple of days to look at ourselves in the mirror and figure out what we need to do to get better. That’s the kind of team we need to be on Thursday night.”