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Small steps, but no moral victories
Georgia Southern Geor Heal 2 WEB
Georgia Tech's Dedrick Mills, left, sores a touchdown against the defense of Georgia Southern's Jay Bowdry in the fourth quarter of an NCAA college football game in Atlanta, Saturday, Oct. 15, 2016

ATLANTA — Two years ago, Georgia Southern rolled into Bobby Dodd Stadium, erased a huge first-half deficit and took a late lead before Georgia Tech wrestled away a win in the final seconds.
    There wasn’t any self-congratulation for hanging tough back then, and there certainly isn’t now after the Eagles again came up short in a 35-24 defeat. The fact that the Eagles outscored the Yellow Jackets following Georgia Tech’s quick-strike scores on its first two possessions isn’t being used as a silver lining.
    “We’re not looking for moral victories,” GS coach Tyson Summers said. “We have to continue to do the little things right. There are some positive things we can build off of, but we have to make the most of our opportunities.”
    The last three games for Georgia Southern have taken very different courses, but all have ended with the Eagles putting another notch in the loss column.
    Special teams miscues and turnovers doomed the Eagles at Western Michigan before refusing to take advantage of a plus-5 turnover margin at Arkansas State and squandering a nine-point fourth quarter lead.
    Against Georgia Tech, it was a new chapter in a book with an ending that is getting troublingly familiar.
    Georgia Tech raced out to an early lead that it effectively used as a buffer even after the Eagles started to find the scoreboard.
    Not only did the Yellow Jackets score early, but they did so with the sort of big plays that make it tough for an opponent to bounce back. A 58 yard touchdown run and a 65-yard touchdown pass highlighted three drives that featured three other plays of at least 15 yards.
    “Coach (Paul) Johnson did a terrific job with his play calling,” GS coach Tyson Summers said. “Georgia Tech had a lot of speed and cuts that were tough to deal with. I thought we adjusted well as the game went along, but those early plays hurt us.”
    While the Eagles put an end to the Jackets grabbing huge chunks of yardage after the first quarter, Tech continued to make big plays in other ways. Georgia Tech converted on 6-of-10 third downs and on its only fourth down attempt. All but one of the Jackets’ successful third down conversions came on scoring drives.
    Heading into Saturday’s tilt, the biggest indictment on Georgia Southern was its running game - or lack thereof.
    A team that has led the country in rushing during each of the last two seasons has returned all of its playmakers at quarterback and running back, but has seen production drop off steeply. The Eagles’ 167 rushing yards on 50 attempts against Georgia Tech was nothing to brag about, but some new wrinkles in play calling and a bit more effectiveness on inside rushes gives reason to hope.
    “We’re working every week to improve,” GS running back L.A. Ramsby said. “Our offensive line is young, but we see them improving. I think it’s going to continue to get better.”
    Following the Arkansas State game, Georgia Southern rose in the rankings to become the sixth most penalized team in the country.
    Georgia Southern’s seven penalties totalling 66 yards was nowhere near the most egregious outcome of the year for the Eagles, but the timing may have been. A pass interference call negated a third down stop for the GS defense, allowing Georgia Tech to go in for a touchdown instead of forcing a field goal.
    Later in the game, the Eagles scored to claw within 28-17, but any plans of an onside kick midway through the fourth quarter were done away with when a penalty following the score forced the ensuing kickoff back to the GS 20 yard line.
    As the Georgia Southern offense tries to get on track this season, it would be beneficial if it wasn’t trying to play from behind.
    The Eagles trailed just three plays into the game and - following their first possession of the game - never had another chance to be down by less than a touchdown with the ball in their hands.
    “It’s tough,” GS quarterback Kevin Ellison said. “You want to get back in the lead, but you can’t try to do too much. I thought we made some good plays, but we also missed some chances.”
    Ellison added that - had the Eagles scored to begin the third quarter after trailing 21-10 at halftime - the momentum and the feeling of the game could have been much different.
Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9408.