In the midst of a week filled with turmoil, the Georgia Southern football team pulled together and played their most consistent game of the season Saturday with a 59-33 win over Arkansas State to snap their three-game losing streak and improve to 2-3 overall and 1-1 in conference play.
“I don’t think there was anything magical we did out there today,” said interim head coach Kevin Whitley. “At some point you have to do the things that you practice. We tried to focus on the things we weren’t doing well in practice this week and really upped the intensity.
“We told the players this week to just shut down the noise and get off of social media and just play the game,” said Whitley. “We weren’t perfect out there tonight, but we got the win and have some momentum and something to build on.”
The Eagles showed marked improvements on both sides of the ball. The 59 points the Eagles scored was the most since hanging 69 points on Georgia State in 2014 in the Georgia Dome. The offense piled up over 500 yards rushing and had two running backs go over 150 yards with Logan Wright earring Sun Belt player of the week for his 214 yards and two scores while Jalen White added 157 yards and a pair of scores.
“We did this tonight for coach Lunsford,” said Wright. “He has been a rock for us, and he couldn’t be here with us tonight, so we did this for him. As seniors we got together and decided we aren’t going to lose any more, so we played with a purpose. I think pieces are starting to fall into place. The running backs played well behind our line who did a great job. I think we are starting to get our edge and play together as one.”
Defensively the Eagles gave up a pair of fourth quarter touchdowns to make the score a little closer than it was, but they did come up with four turnovers on four interceptions which is notable because they entered the game without a turnover in their previous four games.
“We have been preaching and working on causing turnovers, but sometimes the ball doesn’t bounce your way,” said Whitley. “We told our players just keep doing what you are doing, and we will get one and it will snowball. We had some chances the first three games, but the ball just was bouncing right back into their hands. Once we got that first interception Saturday they just kept coming.”
One big difference Saturday was the view for offensive coordinator Doug Ruse who is normally perched above in the press box, but Saturday was on the sidelines. While a bit surprised to see Ruse on the sidelines this past Saturday Whitley expects Ruse to continue to join the team on the sidelines this week at Troy.
“I do expect him to be on the sidelines this Saturday at Troy,” said Whitley. “Any time you score over 50 points you probably won’t change things. Hopefully he will want to stay down there and if not, I may have to make him go down there.”
“I feel like it really helped a lot having him down there with us,” said Logan Wright. “Coach Ruse brings a type of intensity and determination to the game that I haven’t seen before. He’s the guy we lean on and he keeps things in line. Having him down on the field and having his eyes down there on the sidelines seeing things we may not see and making adjustments down there with us was a big deal.”
The Eagles entered Saturday’s game with major issues in the second half, and particularly in the third quarter. Georgia Southern had been outscored 55-0 in the third quarter of their previous four games but won the third quarter 14-0 Saturday.
“We have been a bad second half team all year,” said senior defensive lineman Justin Ellis. “Coach Whitley hammered home all week and every team meeting that we had to play four quarters and especially play well to start the second half. We got a little sloppy in the fourth quarter, but I feel like we really crushed it in the third quarter after halftime.”
Emotions ran high throughout the week and players feel that helped bond them in a way and praised interim coach Kevin Whitley for the leadership he’s brought the team in a difficult time.
“Coach Whit did an amazing job coming into this situation,” said senior defensive lineman C.J. Wright. “Being the man that he is he was able to keep us up and you see how we did. He helped us out so much, but we didn’t just do it for him we did it for coach Lunsford, for the fans and for our teammates.”
The Eagles travel to Troy Saturday for a 7:00 p.m. start.