Statesboro (0-2) at South Effingham (1-2)
Friday, 7:30 p.m., 102.9 FM
FAST START: In last season’s game at South Effingham, the Mustangs used big plays to build an early lead. Statesboro had the firepower to run away with a win in the second half, but this season’s struggling Devil offense doesn’t need the added pressure of having to mount a comeback.
CONTROL THE SKIES: The Statesboro secondary was young entering the season and just got a whole lot younger. Senior corner Wesley Budgett is done for the season after suffering a knee injury. That leaves no returning starters from last season going up against a veteran Tyler Pullum at quarterback for South Effingham.
MAKE PEOPLE MISS: With fewer running backs and a smaller offensive line this season, the Blue Devils aren’t able to power their way past opponents as easily. When ball carriers find themselves in open space, they need to break tackles and create big plays.
The last time Statesboro carried an 0-2 record into its third game of the season, the members of the 2014 Blue Devils were in diapers — if they had even been born yet. A team with a history of excellence such as Statesboro means that rough starts like the last 0-2 beginning in 1998 won’t come around very often.
While the Devils (0-2) must deal with stumbling out of the gate, they hope that another piece of history remains on their side.
Tonight, Statesboro makes the trip over to Guyton to take on a South Effingham (1-2) squad that it has beaten in all eight previous meetings.
“We’ve never taken victory for granted,” SHS coach Steve Pennington said. “We don’t get too high when we win and we don’t get too low when we’ve lost.
“What is affected by losing is confidence. We have to find the small victories in the games we’ve played and be confident in what that can become. When you’re confident, you think positively. If you aren’t, you find negatives, and that’s not a healthy situation.”
Statesboro will hope to find more positives in its offense.
The Devils were shut out in their season opener against Burke County. Statesboro scored on its first play from scrimmage against Wayne County, but couldn’t put up more points until the game was out of reach.
Still searching for a game plan that best fits offensive personnel that is vastly different from previous seasons, the Devils have shown everything from their traditional wishbone set, to the I-formation, to Shotgun sets with three and four receivers.
Juhwan Osborne has emerged as a dangerous downfield threat through the air, but sophomore quarterback Austin Kleinlein is still learning the ropes and an inexperienced running back corps is still trying to find its legs.
“It’s all about adjustments,” Pennington said. “We know that South Effingham is going to run slants and stunts and blitz linebackers. Depending on what we’re doing, we need to be able to adapt and handle it.”
On the other side of the ball, Statesboro will have its hands full with a Mustang offense that can attack in many ways.
Tyler Pullum won the starting quarterback position as a sophomore for the Mustangs last season and immediately impressed.
Pullum fired a pair of touchdown passes against the Blue Devils in last season’s game and SEHS found itself in the locker room with a lead before Statesboro rallied late.
Tonight, he’ll be working against a young SHS secondary that has lost its only senior member — Wesley Budgett — for the season with a torn ACL.
“South Effingham is dangerous because of their balance,” Pennington said. “Their quarterback is a good one, but they also run it well. I think the real challenge will be on our defensive line. They need to set the tone so that (South Effingham) can’t just throw it and test our secondary whenever they want to.”
Despite the Devils’ early struggles, the slate is basically wiped clean beginning tonight.
Burke County and Wayne County are no longer region rivals and only the Devils’ final eight games in their new home in Region 3-AAAAA will count towards their state playoff eligibility.
Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9408.