The fat lady isn’t yet singing on the Eagles’ 2016 football season, but she’s definitely in her makeup and costume already.
Following Georgia Southern’s 33-26 loss at the hands of UL Lafayette Thursday night at Paulson Stadium, the Eagles are just one loss away from failing to qualify for a bowl game. Failing to reach the postseason would be an especially tough pill to swallow for the team’s seniors.
Whether in their fourth or fifth year with the team, the Eagles’ seniors came to town knowing that they’d be the face of the team’s move into the Football Bowl Subdivision, but also that they’d have to sacrifice a year of FCS playoffs and a potential bowl game in 2014 to do so.
Those players helped to accomplish the team portion of their goals last season when the Eagles celebrated a GoDaddy Bowl victory. Now, the goal is to be able to go out with another crack at the postseason.
“We’re in a tough spot right now,” senior receiver B.J. Johnson said. “It’s disappointing and we want to be doing better, but we still know what’s out there to play for. I think everyone is going to pull together and we’ll do what we have to do from here.”
As the short week of practice wore on, the Eagles became aware that Kevin Ellison - who played injured throughout most of last week’s game at Ole Miss - was likely to have to sit out against UL Lafayette. With fellow senior quarterback Favian Upshaw already on the shelf, the reins were turned over to true freshman Seth Shuman.
All in all, Shuman did what could have been expected of him. He connected on 21 of his 36 throws for 228 yards - including his first career touchdown - and avoided offering up any interceptions.
“Overall, I think Seth did a good job,” GS coach Tyson Summers said. “We’ll have to go back and look at everything to really get a good idea of how the offense did, but I think Seth did enough to put us in a position where we could have succeeded.”
Shuman’s previous playing experience had consisted of a handful of drives against New Mexico State and Appalachian State, as well as one play in the Ole MIss game.
NOWHERE TO RUN
Much has been made about the Eagles’ decreased effectiveness in the running game this season, but Thursday night stands out as a new lowlight.
The nation’s two-time defending leading rushing team was held to just 52 yards on 28 carries - good (or bad) for a 1.9 yard-per-play average.
“We weren’t effective in running the ball,” Summers said. “We want to run, but we just weren’t able to do it. There were some injury concerns with Seth where we limited our options with the run, but the bottom line is that we weren’t able to do anything in the run game.”
Matt Breida’s breakaway speed made a cameo appearance during a 64-yard touchdown at Ole Miss last week, but that was followed up by his least effective game in three years. On runs that were mostly aimed up the middle and mostly stopped before ever getting going, the senior running back gained just 18 yards on 14 attempts.
L.A. Ramsby was the only other running back to get carries as Wesley Fields missed the game with an injury and it was Shuman whose 23 yards led the team in rushing.
When things are going bad, it’s amazing how even the weird and random things seem to pile on.
Following Thursday’s game, there was some pushing and shoving on the field as the teams met. In an effort to stop things from escalating, some Eagle players were urged into the locker room while others attempted to go through with the postgame ritual of waiting for the band to play the alma mater.
The result was a frantic back-and-forth that saw some players yelling and gesturing while many others were unsure of whether or not to come back onto the field.
“That definitely wasn’t meant as any disrespect to the band,” Summers said. “In the moment, we were just concerned for everyone’s safety and we were trying to calm things down. We tried to do that by getting everyone to the locker room. We certainly weren’t meaning to ignore the band or ignore the alma mater.”