In continuing our series of teams to be faced by our beloved Dawgs this season, we've reached the penultimate game of the season, a match-up with the Georgia Southern Eagles. You may be thinking to yourself, 'oh, just another piddly game in November against some directional school who we paid to come lose to us in Athens'...and you'd probably be right. Nevertheless, I'm still going to have to channel some of my inner Lee Corso and respond with, 'Not so fast, my friend.' Continue reading after the jump to see why this isn't your average pay-to-play game...
First, some background: In 1980, on the heels of winning a national championship at Georgia, Erk Russell (if you need an explanation of who this is, stop reading now. Seriously.) decided to head down to a small town in southeast Georgia called Statesboro to revive a then-dormant football program. Over the next decade, Erk and his Eagles racked up one of the most impressive decades of college football ever, accumulating an 83-22-1 record, including three national championships and an undefeated season. Southern has continued to be one of the most successful programs in FCS, and going on to win three more national championships after Erk retired (one by Tim Stowers in 1990, and back-to-back titles in 1999 and 2000 under Paul Johnson). Needless to say (though I'm saying it anyway), there's a fair amount of history here.
Head Coach: Jeff Monken, 2nd year (21-8 overall)
Location: Statesboro, GA - Allen E. Paulson Stadium
2011 Record: 11-3 (7-1 SoCon), lost in FCS Semifinals.
Offense: Georgia Southern runs a triple-option offense in the same style as Georgia Tech. Head Coach Jeff Monken was an assistant under Paul Johnson at Georgia Southern, Navy, and Tech, so suffice it to say that playing the Eagles the week before we line it up against the Yellow Jackets should be very good preparation for Todd Grantham's defense, regardless of what some Tech fans might tell you. The Eagles return eight starters from a high-powered offense, but they are replacing two-year starter Jaybo Shaw at quarterback with junior Jerick McKinnon. McKinnon, though only 5'9", is a healthy 210 pounds and is speedy. Assuming that McKinnon can execute the offense efficiently, he shouldn't have to do much more, as the Eagles have a stable of talented runningbacks, including Walter Payton Watchlist Nominee Dominique Swope (1023 rushing yards, 7 TD, 6.1 YPC last year) and Robert Brown (937 rushing yards, 5 TD, 6.9 YPC last year). There are questions around Brown's health, however, as he had back surgery in the offseason.
Defense: Like their offensive counterparts, the Eagle D returns eight starters from a squad that performed quite admirably last year, holding their regular season opponents to an average of just over twenty points per game. The Eagles are a base 4-3 defense, but they do like to work out of multiple fronts, so we may see a number of different approaches out of second year defensive coordinator Jack Curtis. There is some star power on the defense, including All-American senior defensive lineman Brent Russell. Russell was named the SoCon's defensive player of the year last year, and took home the preseason honors for that same title this year as well. Defensive back Deion Stanley should be the one bright spot in what will otherwise be a thin, untested secondary.
Game Outlook: While there is no reason for Georgia to lose this game, by no means will it be a cakewalk for the Dawgs. Georgia Southern is undoubtedly one of the most talented teams in FCS, and have been tabbed as one of the front-runners to take home the FCS national title this season. As any Georgia Southern fan will tell you, the Eagles gave Alabama more than what they initially bargained for last year, with some Tide starters continuing to see the field late into the second half. Georgia should win the game based on its depth and talent alone, but expect this one to be competitive in the first half. The key to the game for the Dawgs will be playing assignment football, keeping contain on the outside, and stopping the dive play. If Big Bad John and Kwame Geathers can successfully clog the middle, this should be a great chance for our guys to get a nice warm-up and great live practice against the triple-option before suiting it up against Tech the following week. It should also be noted that this is the last game of the regular season for the Eagles, so if they're looking to go on a run in the FCS playoffs, they could very well be limiting the amount of minutes their starters receive too.
Predicted Final Score: UGA 45 - GSU 14.
hailtogeorgia's rant: I bleed Red and Black. I graduated from UGA with two degrees, and I'm a bigger Georgia fan than I am a fan of just about anything else in my life...heck, there's a reason I write for a Georgia blog. Having said all that, it's no coincidence that the first game I ever saw in Sanford Stadium was Georgia/Georgia Southern in 1992. I grew up attending Georgia Southern games in Statesboro with my family and a number of family friends. Both of my parents graduated from Georgia Southern, I owned Eagle gear long before I ever owned anything UGA related, and the picture above my bed as a child, 'A Bad Case of the Wants', showed a boy with a jug of water from beautiful Eagle Creek, Erk Russell hoisted on the shoulders of his players 'One More Time', and Blue and White all over the room. Rather than hearing about Buck Belue to Lindsay Scott, I heard about Tracy Ham and Frankie Johnson with 'The Catch'. The great thing about this is that to this day, with the exception of one day every four years, I'm able to pull for both teams with vigor and never have a conflict. I can sing 'Hail To Georgia' and turn around and shout 'Hail Southern!' in the very same breath, and feel completely fine about it. What baffles me, though, is this strange idea by a growing majority of Georgia Southern fans that there is some sort of rivalry between our two schools? When I go home to southeast Georgia and go out in Statesboro, why do I catch flack for wearing Georgia gear from Georgia Southern folks? 'Oh, at least I went to my school', 'I wear blue and white because I went to Georgia Southern, you wear red and black because you went to Wal-Mart', and 'I got into Georgia but chose to go to Georgia Southern instead' are all statements I've heard first hand over the past few years, and I just don't get it. NEWS FLASH, IDIOTS: THERE IS NO RIVALRY BETWEEN GEORGIA AND GEORGIA SOUTHERN. Maybe this all happens because of the Paul Johnson connection. Maybe this happens because of the growing number of metro-Atlanta kids who matriculate in Statesboro and think that they have to 'choose' Southern over Georgia. Get a grip, people. YOU CAN CHEER FOR BOTH TEAMS! There is absolutely, positively, NO conflict of interest! ...and seriously folks, if you're going to start not liking Georgia because of the Paul Johnson connection, this has to be one of the greatest displays of ignorance I've ever come across. The entire Georgia Southern football program is owed to a guy who loved Georgia football and hated Georgia Tech. When you're yelling GATA and cheering on the Eagles, you realize you're yelling an acronym that was created to poke fun at the Georgia Tech Athletic Association (GTAA...rearrange the letters...WHOA MIND BLOWN!), yes? You also must be unaware that Erk Russell used to send his players at Georgia summer workout instructions that said things like 'run three miles, hate Georgia Tech four times.' Seriously, if you think those feelings of distaste miraculously left when Erk headed to Statesboro, you're fooling yourself...so here's my tip for you: cut the crap, embrace the fact that you CAN pull for two teams who don't compete against one another, and stop acting like jerks to people you've never met simply because they happen to have a red G on their hat in Statesboro, Georgia. [This has been a public service announcement, and I approve this message].
As always, Go Dawgs! ...and to prove I'm not a hypocrite...Hail Southern!