That is how the Georgia Southern Eagles used to be no matter where or who they were playing.
Fear on the other side of the football is what used to turn a game that GSU was supposed to win into a blowout. Even when the Eagles would face the tough teams, it was the lack of fear on both sides of the ball that kept it close nine times out of 10.
There were always a majority of Eagles who had a point of reference to base that fearlessness off of. Coaches and players could look at adversity and turn to a past experience – winning a Southern Conference championship or a playoff game at the road – and they’d know that they could get it done.
Fear can play an important role in a football game.
Back in 2001, when East Tennessee State’s football program was on its last legs, the Bucs had nothing to lose. Sure, a couple of turnovers and missed field goals were why they beat Paul Johnson’s Eagles that year – on paper anyway – but a team with nothing to lose is always dangerous.
In Saturday’s 52-16 blowout at the hands of Appalachian State, there was no point of reference to draw from. The Eagles were playing with everything to lose – the rivalry, the playoffs, the season – and that fear dictated how the game went. It’s why GSU ended up on the other side of a blowout.
Georgia Southern had less experience, less talent, less depth and less confidence than ASU, and that’s why it lost, but the reason it was so terribly one-sided boils down to that one factor – fear.
Fear was why GSU stopped trying to run the football after it got stuffed on the first couple of drives. It’s why two wide-open passes downfield and a sure interception on defense were dropped – plays that could have changed the game.
Fear was why the playbook was never opened – no trick plays, no polecat formation from back in 2007, no fakes, no anything.
They tried a speed option, once, but when that was stuffed for a six-yard loss, that was it.
The fear of having everything on the line made it impossible to take chances.
Fearlessness, swagger and that championship attitude are things that are learned. They have to be earned.
When GSU scrapped the system and the coaching staff that had been so successful since the beginning of the modern era, X’s and O’s weren’t the only part of the program that started from scratch. The fearlessness went with it.
Now, the Eagles will find themselves more than likely missing the playoffs for the fourth time in as many years. That’s why these last three games are big. None of these players and coaches have proven to themselves that they have what it takes to be great. None of them have been on the field for a successful season here in Statesboro. Sure, there have been successful moments, but a successful season starts with that attitude, and the Eagles haven’t found it yet.
This team needs to look in the mirror during this off week.
There are three games left in the 2009 football season. Before these young coaches and players can prove to the rest of college football that they have what it takes, they need to prove it to themselves.
Starting over from scratch is never easy, but step one is building a foundation. The first step is proving to themselves that the can be as fearless as the Eagles were before the rebuilding process began.
Then, maybe they can take all that talent and youth, and turn it into something special.
Matt Yogus can be reached at (912) 489-9408.