The Eagles have already pulled off one monumental upset on the road this season, so the question becomes: Can they do it again?
Two weeks after knocking off two-time defending national champion Appalachian State in Boone, N.C, No. 17 Georgia Southern is hoping to pull off a similar feat today at 10th-ranked Wofford. The Eagles are calling the crucial 1:30 p.m. matchup their biggest of the year, and the game has huge postseason and Southern Conference title implications for both teams. The loser of today’s contest likely will be left out of the 16-team playoff field.
In a game that pits the nation’s top two rushing offenses, the Eagles (6-2, 3-2) are looking to shove Wofford (7-2, 4-1) out of a two-way tie with Elon atop the Southern Conference. A GSU win coupled with an Elon loss today would put the Eagles in a tie for first place. Georgia Southern’s seniors have their own agenda – evening their career record against the Terriers, who have won four of the last five over the Eagles.
“Wofford’s found a way to knock us off the past few years, so that’s been on our minds, and we (took) that into consideration as we (prepared) this week,” senior running back Dusty Reddick said.
The Eagles, focused on staying even-keeled since the Appalachian State win, rode senior quarterback Jayson Foster’s two fourth-quarter touchdowns to a 21-17 win over The Citadel last week.
“We’ve got to build off of the hard-fought victory over The Citadel and play our best (today) if we’ve got a chance to win,” GSU coach Chris Hatcher said.
Georgia Southern, which already has doubled its win total from a year ago, has won two straight and keeps finding ways to come out on top on Saturdays. The Eagles’ only two losses this season were both decided in overtime (Chattanooga and Elon).
“We are just getting closer as a team,” senior defensive lineman Joey Tuttle said. “Coach tells everybody to put their log on the fire every game. We’re building a flame. Since the Appalachian State game we’ve set a spark, and the flames are just getting bigger every day.”
Led by Mike Ayers, whose 20-year tenure stands as the longest in the conference, the Terriers have a reputation for being well-disciplined and well-coached. They’ve lost to a Football Championship Subdivision team just once this year, a 24-13 defeat by Elon aided by four uncharacteristic Wofford turnovers. North Carolina State is the only other team that’s topped the Terriers this season.
Georgia Southern is looking for its first win at Gibbs Stadium since 2001 and is itching to crash Wofford’s homecoming and senior day celebrations slated for this afternoon.
“Quite frankly, I’d like to know who scheduled them for homecoming,” Ayers said.
The Terriers have added a few new wrinkles to their steadfast triple option attack, including working out of the shotgun and a slew of different formations. They like to chew up the clock and wear down defenses with their potent ground game, directed by senior quarterback Josh Collier and sparked senior running back Kevious Johnson (91.9 rushing yards a game).
“They are very good at what they do, and of course they are no fun to prepare for,” Hatcher said. “Anytime you play an option offense, you’ve got to play good sound fundamental football.”
On the other side of the ball, Wofford boasts the SoCon’s best scoring defense, which allows a league-low 25.1 points per game. The group is looking to get back on its feet in a hurry after a disastrous second half last week in Cullowhee, N.C., where Western Carolina put up 41 points over the final two quarters. The Terriers’ defensive game plan will likely center around containing Foster, one of the most explosive players in the conference. The senior leads the league and ranks third nationally with 161 rushing yards a week.
“They truly have a special, special guy in Jayson Foster,” Ayers said. “He’s a difference-maker, there’s no doubt. The bad part is they’ve got other guys that are difference makers. We know if we allow Jayson Foster to get into the third level of our defense with his hands still on the ball, then we are going to have some issues.”
The Eagles are treating the home stretch of their regular season as a playoff run, and they know winning is the only way to keep it alive.
“We are going to have to do the little things right,” Reddick said. “It’s going to be an exciting day. Our immediate goal right now is to go from 6-2 to 7-2. That’s what we are focused on.”Said Foster: “This is a must-win game for us.”