This is what we want to see on Saturday: guys in red jerseys celebrating in the end zone. - Scott Cunningham
Fresh from winning their second straight SEC East title, the Georgia Bulldogs turn their attention to the Georgia Southern Eagles, the first of two straight in-state rivals to visit Sanford Stadium. How does the Peach State's best Division I-A program stack up against the state's best Division I-AA team?
Tomorrow, the 2012 SEC East champion Georgia Bulldogs welcome the Georgia Southern Eagles to Sanford Stadium, where the Red and Black look to complete successfully the opening leg of a two-game journey from a division crown to a state championship before heading to Atlanta to compete for the conference title. However, we at Dawg Sports are not looking past GSU, which is why, this week, as with all others, we bring you not a dash of data, nor an increment of insight, but, rather, Too Much Information:
As MaconDawg noted on this week’s podcast, if it’s a presidential election year, Georgia is hosting Georgia Southern between the hedges. The Eagles made their first trip to the Classic City in 1992, and, after skipping the return journey in 1996, they have come back every four years since, visiting Athens in 2000, 2004, and 2008. The Bulldogs are 4-0 against their in-state rivals from Statesboro, winning by margins of 27, 22, 20, and 24 points, respectively.
Southern Conference co-champion Georgia Southern leads Division I-AA with more than 400 rushing yards per game, and the Eagles have amassed at least 350 yards of total offense in nine of ten games this autumn. On GSU’s last two trips to Sanford Stadium, the visitors managed 24.5 points per game.
2012 will enter the Red and Black record book as just the fourth season in Georgia football history in which the Bulldogs beat the Auburn Tigers, the Florida Gators, and the Tennessee Volunteers in the same autumn. In the previous three such seasons (1980, 1981, and 2011), the Classic City Canines were a combined 12-2 in regular-season non-conference games, including a 10-0 mark in Athens.
It’s no secret who Georgia Southern is or what Georgia Southern does. The Eagles run, run, and run some more . . . but they also have trouble hanging onto the ball. This is good news for the Bulldogs, who are tied for eighth in the league with nine interceptions, but who stand alone in second place in the SEC with 14 forced fumbles and a dozen fumble recoveries.
The Georgia D has forced opposing offenses to go three-and-out 55 times in the Bulldogs’ first ten games. That average of 5.5 three-down-and-punt drives forced per game is the fourth-best in the nation, trailing only the per-game averages of the Florida St. Seminoles (6.8), the TCU Horned Frogs (6.0), and the Wisconsin Badgers (5.6).
The Eagles have not previously faced a Division I-A opponent in 2012. However, GSU took on Alabama last season, rushing for 302 yards and scoring 21 points against the Tide. Both totals were season-highs against ‘Bama in 2011.
Georgia Southern has never beaten a Division I-A opponent in 19 all-time tries.
Again as MaconDawg noted on this week’s exceptionally thorough and entertaining podcast, the Eagles are going to get their yards. (By the way, why is it that, of the five teams we typically associate with the ground-based triple-option in the present day, three of them---the Air Force Falcons, the Georgia Southern Eagles, and the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets---have airborne mascots, and a fourth---the Navy Midshipmen---is made up of seafarers? Only the Army Black Knights have a ground-based mascot to match their ground-based offense. I’m just saying; having a run-first offense and an avian mascot makes about as little sense as having a feline mascot and an avian war cry.)
The option is an unconventional offense that works in the modern era primarily due to its comparative rarity; teams have difficulty completely reorienting their defensive schemes to halt an attack they see so infrequently. That said, Paul Johnson’s Engineers rolled up 409 rushing yards on 56 attempts and scored 45 points on Georgia in Athens in 2008, before the Golden Tornado amassed only 243 rushing yards on 53 attempts for 17 points in Atlanta last year, so the offense isn’t unstoppable.
As usual, Georgia Southern will move the ball much more than we would like, and the Eagles will score more points than we would prefer (any number greater than zero being more points than we would prefer after Georgia just notched a shutout for the fourth straight season), but the Bulldogs will win by a margin of twentysomething points, in keeping with the familiar pattern when these two in-state rivals meet.
My Prediction: Georgia Bulldogs 44, Georgia Southern Eagles 20.