Georgia Southern flies into town

Georgia Southern has tradition.  Six national titles.  Erk Russell.  Tracy Ham.  Adrian Peterson.   Paul Johnson.  Brian VanGorder.  Uh, wait…

Tradition gives rise to expectations, and when those expectations aren’t met, sometimes a foolish decision or two gets made.  Such was the case when Georgia Southern fired Mike Sewak after consecutive years in which GSU lost in the first round of the playoffs.  Sewak won 35 games in four seasons in Statesboro, but he had followed Paul Johnson, who in five years had won 62 games and two national titles.  Georgia Southern expected more.

Sewak was replaced by Brian VanGorder, which in retrospect certainly qualifies as a foolish decision.  VanGorder apparently decided that if there was a GSU tradition he could break, he would break it.  He did everything but drain “Beautiful Eagle Creek” (although I bet he would have if he had thought of it).  The program still hasn’t quite recovered from the VanGorder Era, even though he was only there for one season.  He finished with a 3-8 record, mostly because he scrapped Georgia Southern’s option attack and in the process made the Southern Conference’s best player, quarterback Jayson Foster, a wide receiver.  It is hard to imagine a coach doing less with more than VanGorder did in Statesboro, as Foster was just one of several very talented players on the roster.  After that season, the embattled VanGorder left to take a job with the Atlanta Falcons, and was replaced by the current coach, Chris Hatcher.

This is Hatcher’s second year in Statesboro.  In his first year, he did what any intelligent human being would do, and put Jayson Foster back in charge of the offense.  The result was a 7-4 record and the Walter Payton Award for Foster as the nation’s top FCS player.

This season Hatcher’s Eagles are 4-4, which doesn’t begin to tell the story of how crazy a year they’ve had.  Georgia Southern has had a tendency to play up to or down to the level of its opponents, which has led to the following:  an overtime win over 2-6 Northeastern, a fourth-quarter comeback victory over 1-7 Austin Peay, an overtime one-point loss to third-ranked Wofford (where Hatcher elected to go for two and the victory in the first overtime period, but the play call got horribly botched), a two-point setback at home to #10 Elon, a one-point loss at home to second-ranked (and three-time national champion) Appalachian State, and a wild road victory over a terrible Western Carolina team where GSU trailed 31-3 in the fourth quarter.

That WCU game happened last week, so you would expect Georgia Southern to be on a major high when it arrives to take on the Bulldogs at Johnson Hagood Stadium this Saturday.   Maybe that will still be the case, but Hatcher’s dismissal of three freshmen (all contributors) from the team just this past Tuesday might put a damper on things.

Georgia Southern will be favored to beat The Citadel, given that the Bulldogs have lost four in a row and can’t run the ball on offense.  Georgia Southern has had problems stopping the run, but it’s hard to see The Citadel taking advantage of that on Saturday.  The offensive line will be facing a 330-lb. nosetackle and two quality defensive ends, including South Carolina transfer Dakota Walker.

The Citadel has also struggled on defense.  That probably will continue on Saturday, as the undersized front seven for the Bulldogs face a GSU offensive line that averages 294 lbs.  What the Eagles are not good at is holding on to the ball.  GSU has committed 25 turnovers this season (13 picks, 12 lost fumbles), and has a turnover margin of -13.  Last week the Eagles won despite a seven-turnover performance that included three giveaways in the fourth quarter (two of which actually occurred during the wild comeback).  The problem for The Citadel is that the Bulldogs haven’t been inclined to force turnovers (only 10 so far this season).  Georgia Southern also had 11 penalties (for 137 yards) against Western Carolina.  The Eagles are averaging 8 penalties per game.

Georgia Southern still has hopes of a playoff bid if it can win its last three games, but I doubt that 7-4 is going to get it done.   Running the table would include a win over Furman, which would vault the Eagles over the Paladins, but I don’t think the SoCon will get more than three postseason bids unless the fourth-place team beats one of the top three, and GSU has already lost to all three of the top teams in the league.  If Furman could beat Georgia Southern and Wofford, the Paladins would likely get a fourth bid for the SoCon, but I think the Eagles’ chances of postseason play are extremely slim.

As for Saturday’s game, I think the Bulldogs will have a much better outing than they did against Samford.  Bart Blanchard will start at QB, but I would expect Cam Turner to get some snaps as well.  The best chance The Citadel has for victory is for Georgia Southern to continue its season-long habit of playing to the level of its competition.

One good thing for The Citadel is that another horrendous second quarter, such as those against Furman and Samford, appears unlikely.  GSU has been outscored 99-45 in that period this season.   On the other hand, the Eagles have dominated the scoring in the fourth quarter (95-40).

We’ll see what happens.

One Response

  1. One funny thing about the GSU firing Sewak is that shortly after it happened, the Eagles were added to Navy’s 2009 schedule. Apparently Paul Johnson wanted to run up the score on them for the way they fired his friend. So much for that…

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