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Notebook: Defense has issues with 3rd down
upset VG
Georgia Southern coach Brian VanGorder walks the sideline during his team’s 34-14 loss to visiting North Dakota State. Eagle wide receiver Michael McIntosh (18) is in the background. - photo by MICHELLE BOAEN/staff
    Georgia Southern’s defense struggled to get off the field on third downs Saturday, as North Dakota State made 11 of 17 third-down conversions.
    “Their quarterback was stepping up, we weren’t getting the pressure we needed on him and he was making plays,” senior linebacker John Mohring said.
    Entering the game, the Eagles held opponents to a 30.8-percent success rate on third down, good for 18th in the nation. In the first two quarters, NDSU converted 7 of 9 third downs, including three on its final touchdown drive before halftime. Ninety-two of NDSU’s 131 second-quarter yards came on third down.
    “That’s a big momentum swing for them to be third down and long,” Mohring said. “We play great the first two downs and then let up a big play – we can’t do that. Third downs are very important in winning a game.”
    North Dakota State coach Craig Bohl credited his team’s performance in crucial situations to junior quarterback Steve Walker.
    “You can attribute (success on third downs) to our game planning and also our quarterback – he is a really poised player,” Bohl said. “In a closely matched game like this, it’s usually going to come down to either turnovers or third downs.”
    Like Mohring, Eagle coach Brian VanGorder said Georgia Southern’s defensive front struggled to put pressure on NDSU’s offensive line.
    “Their big offensive line held us out and gave them time,” he said. “Coverage-wise, we just weren’t as aggressive as we needed to be. We were a little bit passive, keeping the ball in front of us. We don’t want to play defense that way.”

Beard, Earwood start
    Sophomore defensive end Larry Beard started his first game of the season, replacing senior Shaheen Solomon. Beard started the final eight games in 2005.
    Senior linebacker Jason Earwood returned to the starting lineup for the first time since suffering a concussion in the season opener.

Jackson comes up big again
    Sophomore Brandon Jackson recorded his team-leading third interception when he picked off a Steve Walker pass in the first quarter.
    Prior to Jackson’s pickoff, Walker had attempted 116 passes without and pick. It was Walker’s first interception this year.

Foster sets season,
career marks
    Junior Jayson Foster returned a punt a season-long 34 yards in the first quarter Saturday, setting up Georgia Southern’s first score. Foster set his career mark on Oct. 16, 2004, with a 94-yard punt return for touchdown against Appalachian State.
    Also on Saturday, Foster caught a career-high six passes for 69 yards, returned four punts a total of 49 yards and three kickoffs 75 yards.

McCutchen reels in three
    Senior wide receiver Reggie McCutchen also recorded a career high in receptions, catching three passes for 47 yards.

    Alex Pellegrino can be reached at (912) 489-9413.