Coaches dislike referencing a game as a “must win” but that’s the situation Georgia Southern and Louisiana-Monroe both find themselves when they meet Saturday at Paulson Stadium.
The Eagles put themselves behind the eight ball in the Sun Belt Conference race last week when they lost at Troy following their win over No. 20 Appalachian State.
All Georgia Southern (5-4, 3-2) had to do to win the SBC championship was win out. A tall order, for sure, but one the Eagles had shown they were capable of accomplishing.
Now the Eagles need to get some help, i.e., a Georgia State upset of Appalachian State this weekend and then run the table against the Warhawks, Arkansas State and the Panthers.
Doing that looks much more difficult now than it did two weeks ago.
Louisiana-Monroe (4-5, 3-2) is not exactly a pushover despite its sub-par record.
The Warhawks are coming off a 45-31 win over Georgia State in what Coach Matt Viator said was one of their best performances of the season.
And, ULM has a lot to play for, too.
Georgia Southern needs one more win to get bowl eligible and the Warhawks are playing for the same opportunity.
Monroe has not been to a bowl since 2012. Last year it finished 6-6 including a dominating 44-25 win over the Eagles but found itself sitting at home when bowl invites were handed out.
A strong finish and the star power attraction of quarterback Caleb Evans could make the Warhawks an attractive option for a bowl committee looking to sell tickets.
Evans is one of the top players in the Sun Belt and in his four-year career he has amassed 10,543 yards total offense, 8,554 passing and 1,989 rushing.
This year the 6-foot-2, 210-pound senior has 1,978 yards passing and 62 rushing, 11 shy of his career high which he had last year.
“The last couple of weeks he’s been able to get it going in both the passing and running game,” Coach Jack Viator said. “We’re at our best when he’s got it going.
“He’s been making good decisions and making good throws in the passing game,” Viator said. “He’s been really efficient passing and he can be a really effective runner which he was Saturday against Georgia State.”
Evans, who will be making his 32nd consecutive start, had 291 yards passing against the Panthers and added 110 on the ground. Last year against Georgia Southern he threw for 337 yards and had 102 rushing.
In the win over Georgia State the Warhawks were balanced offensively as in addition to Evans’ 291 yards through the air they added 299 on the ground.
Running back Josh Johnson had 168 yards against GSU and now has 1,017 on the season, second best in the Sun Belt. Evans is second in the conference in
passing and total offense.
“That was a big, big win for us,” Viator, 18-27 in his fourth season, said of the win over the Panthers. “We did some good things offensively against a good Georgia State team.
“The key for us against Georgia Southern is getting off to a good start,” Viator said. “Last year we got up on them three touchdowns at one point and it changed their game plan.
“We’ve got to sustain some drives offensively to keep them off the field. That’s going to be a challenge.”
The Eagles lead the series 5-3. The two teams first met in 1987 in a Division I-AA playoff game when ULM was known as Northeast Louisiana University. Northeast, then the Indians, won that game and went on to beat Marshall, 43-42, in the national championship game.