By MIKE ANTHONY
The Georgia Southern Eagles finally broke out of a three-game losing streak by battling late into the night for a close win at New Mexico State last weekend.
Any win is cause for some celebration, but a short week and a rapidly approaching rivalry game against Appalachian State Thursday night at Paulson Stadium has had the Eagles’ focused on the next game since before they touched down back on the east coast Sunday afternoon.
“It’s only been two days, but it feels like a week since that game,” GS coach Tyson Summers said. “We did things a little different when looking at this short week. We stayed the night (after the New Mexico State game). The players got a full night’s sleep and had their scouting reports for App State waiting for them at breakfast Sunday morning.
“We got back to town late Sunday afternoon, went right into meetings, and we’ve been going full steam ever since.”
With the season now past the halfway point, the general feeling is that the Eagles have had more downs than ups. A 4-3 record isn’t where many saw the Eagles when making preseason predictions were being made.
On the other hand, a win on Thursday would keep the Eagles on the short list of teams with a chance of winning the Sun Belt. The wins over South Alabama, UL Monroe and New Mexico State haven’t been as impressive as the Eagles’ previous handiwork against those programs, but a 3-1 Sun Belt mark has Georgia Southern sitting just behind the conference’s three unbeaten teams and the Eagles still have games remaining against two of those frontrunners - beginning with Thursday’s tilt against the Mountaineers.
“It’s App State week. Everybody is up for it,” GS linebacker Ironhead Gallon said.
Must-win in Mobile
At 1-2 in conference play, Georgia State still has a (theoretical) puncher’s chance at competing for the Sun Belt. That ship sailed long ago for South Alabama, which dropped its first three conference games before charging out to a lead over Troy last week, only to fade away in the final quarter.
The Jaguars are now 0-4 in Sun Belt play, but are still aiming for a strong finish and a possible bowl berth.
“We are two teams that started at the same time,” USA coach Joey Jones said of this week’s game. “It’s become a bit of a rivalry. There are plenty of reasons why we want to win this one.”
South Alabama continues to be a bit of an anomaly for the rest of the conference. While many Sun Belt teams have struggled when venturing outside of conference play, the Jags have — arguably — the league’s two biggest non-conference wins this season.But once in conference play, the Jags are showing the same struggles that have kept them near the cellar since joining the Belt.
Red Wolves try to stay hot
This week’s only other intra-conference matchup sees UL Monroe travelling to Arkansas State.
The Red Wolves are the defending conference champs and don’t seem to want to relinquish their title. Arkansas State was a disaster in four non-conference games to begin the season, but has rebounded to win the first two games of its Sun Belt schedule.
“We’ve been playing with a bunch of injuries,” Arkansas State coach Blake Anderson said. “I think the week off since the South Alabama game has done everyone plenty of good.”
The Warhawks (2-5, 1-2 Sun Belt) have been playing better as new head coach Matt Viator’s first season at ULM has carried on, but the Red Wolves will be favored to keep up their winning streak and stay atop the conference standings.
Arkansas State has proven time and time again to be a perennial force in the Sun Belt, but even a win this week won’t settle much in the conference as the Wolves will have to venture away from home in each of the final three weeks of the season.