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Georgia/Georgia Southern Q&A With Haisten Willis

John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

By now you have probably noticed the work of our newest contributor, Haisten Willis. Haisten is a fine human being, an above average cobra wrangler, and makes a queso dip that even Nick Saban would have time for.

But Haisten also has a dark side. He's, he's....a Georgia Southern grad. A card carrying Eagle. An Erk enthusiast. Okay, that last one's all of us. But you get the picture. Haisten took a break recently from his other duties here at Dawg Sports and his fine work over at SB Nation's Underdog Dynasty to preview tomorrow's matchup between the Dawgs and Eagles.

MD: Did Georgia Southern fans expect to be this competitive in the Sunbelt this quickly? What's the overall state of the program (he asked for Bulldog fans who have been understandably preoccupied)?


HW: Southern is known for overly confident fans, so I think some folks expected it. Speaking for myself, yes I was very surprised to see us perform so well in the Sun Belt so quickly. Remember, the Eagles went 7-4 in 2013, and that includes the win over Florida. We were 4-4 in the Southern Conference that season and lost our coach to Army. Safe to say only the most optimistic fans expected anything like the 8-0 conference record in 2014. With that precedent set, the success this year is less surprising.

The state of the program is as strong as ever right now. Southern is recruiting well, just expanded its stadium and the fanbase is about as excited as it ever has been. The big question of the offseason will be if we can keep Willie Fritz around for at least another year.

MD: If the Eagles are going to pull the upset which player or unit has to come up big?


HW: The offensive line, the offensive line, the offensive line. Line play will be the key in this game as I see it. Against West Virginia, the Mountaineer front four got into the backfield very quickly throughout the game and disrupted Southern's blocking schemes. The Eagles lost 44-0 and threw three interceptions in just one quarter after realizing the run wasn't going to work. If the line is getting movement and executing its blocks successfully, Georgia Southern should be able to own time of possession and put up points. GSU's offense has great skill position players if they can get into space.

MD: Georgia has struggled pretty mightily on offense. The Eagles, on the other hand, are second in the Sun Belt in both total defense and scoring defense. What's been the key for that unit?

HW: Georgia Southern's defense never gets any press since the offense is such a huge part of the team's identity, but they've quietly put together a very good season. The front four, led by players like Ironhead Gallon, has been able to sack or at least hurry opposing quarterbacks and stop running plays for a short gain most of the time. Also, the secondary, which has historically been a sort of Achilles heel, is also getting it done in 2015. 14 interceptions is a lot through nine games and the team will need a few more of those to have a chance Saturday.
All of that said, Georgia has struggled on offense against SEC teams and the Eagle defense has played well against Sun Belt teams. Obviously there's a difference there.

MD: Tell us about Willie Fritz's offense. What's it like to see the option run out of formations other than the flexbone?

HW: I'm far from an Xs and Os guy but the offense is similar to the option but run out of a shotgun/pistol formation, an option remix if you will. The backfield rarely lines up the same way on two plays in a row and pitches are still a common sight. We had a play last week against Troy that actually pitched to a wide receiver. The basic concept is the same as the old-school option: misdirection, read the defense and keep them honest. 

Fritz passed the football quite a bit at previous coaching stops and would like to do so more here. Unfortunately, that part of the game has not worked out so far at Georgia Southern, and at one point this year we had one passing touchdown against eight interceptions. BJ Johnson, the team's leading receiver, returned to action last week and the air attack worked a little better, who knows if that continues against UGA.

MD: For real though, can the Eagles actually win this one? Score prediction?

HW: The Eagles definitely can win the game. I believe ESPN's prediction models give us a 15 percent chance of winning, which sounds about right. The West Virginia and App State games were ugly but our starting quarterback Kevin Ellison was out for the WVU game and playing in Boone is an eternal curse on this team. I think Southern keeps it close but Georgia's height/weight advantage and depth win the day: 35-28 Georgia.

The Eagles definitely can win the game. I believe ESPN's prediction models give us a 15 percent chance of winning, which sounds about right. The West Virginia and App State games were ugly but our starting quarterback Kevin Ellison was out for the WVU game and playing in Boone is an eternal curse on this team. I think Southern keeps it close but Georgia's height/weight advantage and depth win the day: 35-28 Georgia.