It’s time for a reality check Eagle fans.
I, like many of you, looked at Georgia Southern in the preseason and saw an at worst an eight-win team. Hell, I could have talked myself into ten wins — the only losses coming to power-five teams.
In even wilder preseason fantasies, Georgia Southern could beat Georgia Tech — who at the time were coming off a 3-9 season — and go 11-1 and possibly be the group-of-five representative in the New Year’s Six.
Man, the preseason is the worst kind of tempting mistress, huh?
It happens every year. Everything looked ripe for the picking for GS. Nearly the entire offense was coming back. The only significant losses came in the secondary and popular opinion said the depth of the front seven would generate a pass rush good enough to cover up any holes in the young unit.
Despite having a tough schedule, it was fairly reasonable for one to assume GS could win the conference for the second time in three years. It would have been an unprecedented achievement in FBS football.
Key word: would be.
As it does every year, the regular season came around to slap your preseason expectations back into space and come around to backhand you in the face with a big dose of reality.
That reality? Georgia Southern is not a good football team this year.
It’s time to swallow the pill folks. After that slopfest against New Mexico State, an objectively bad team, it’s time to set your expectations back.
Georgia Southern trailed in this game going into the fourth quarter. Heck, if New Mexico State has Statesboro High School’s kicker Caleb Dowden to make that field goal and extra point the Eagles are probably 3-4 right now.
Need I remind the people how bad New Mexico State is. In Bill Connelly’s S&P analytic rankings, NMSU is 126th. There are only 128 teams in the FBS.
Speaking of 128, that’s where NMSU’s defensive S&P lies. Dead last. That defense — worst in the country mind you — held GS to 22 points and made the Eagles highly ineffective inside NMSU territory.
Georgia Southern had 12 meaningful drives, and seven of them went inside the NMSU 40 yard line. That’s actually pretty good.
The problem? GS needs to come away with touchdowns when they get inside the opponent’s 40 yard line. So instead of scoring 49 points, they scored 22. That’s 3.1 points per trip inside the opponent’s 40 yard line. Continuously having to settle for field goals won’t cut it.
This isn’t an isolated issue either. Georgia Southern’s offense has had trouble inside the opponent’s 40 all year. Before the NMSU game, the Eagles were averaging 4.67 points per 40 trip — which was ranked 73rd in the country. That’s below average at best, and is directly tied to the lack of explosive plays from this offense.
Against NMSU the big runs and passes were slightly more abundant compared to the rest of the season, but for the year GS is ranked 112th in the country in Connelly’s explosiveness metric. 112th is worse than UMass (1-7), FAU (1-6) and Kansas (1-7).
Why aren’t the Eagles hitting big plays? I’m at a loss for an explanation. The players are the same, the offense is basically the same which leaves the only factor left — the coaching staff and playcalling.
Adding to that, Georgia Southern can’t stop the big play either. They’re ranked 98th in Connelly’s explosiveness defense metric and gave up 5.8 yards per play to NMSU — who came into the game averaging 5.4. The front seven can’t cause any sort of havoc and it’s leaving this young secondary out to dry.
I can go on forever about super-specific stats exposing flaws in this team, but this is about the macro. The big picture. And that picture says this 2016 Georgia Southern football team is not good.
They may not even be average. At best they’ve been slightly below average with a nasty schedule ahead of them.
For starters, the game this Thursday against App State does not look promising. App’s played like a top-40 team this year and have been on a roll since getting roasted by Miami back on Sept. 17. Their defense by the way is ranked 22nd in Connelly’s metric. So if Southern can only manage 22 points against the worst defense in the country — what are they to do against App’s?
Ole Miss is a loss.
UL-Lafayette and Georgia State are must wins, because right now Troy isn’t that far behind App in the S&P metric and secretly are one of the better G-5 teams in the country. In other words, Georgia Southern will be fortunate to be 6-6 at the end of the regular season.
And look, it’s not all bad. You’ll still make a bowl at 6-6 and potentially go over .500. Is it what you wanted? No.
But it’s what you have. So scale back your expectations Eagle fans, lest you want your hearts broken again this season.