WHO: Georgia Southern (7-2, 6-0 SBC) at Texas State (5-3, 3-1 SBC)
WHEN: Saturday, November 7, 4:00 PM ET (3:00 PM CT), ESPN3
WHERE: Bobcat Stadium, San Marcos, TX (30,000)
LINE: GASO -14.5 (opened -7.5)
F/+ Rankings: GASO 46, TXST 114
The Georgia Southern Eagles have continued their rampage through the softer end of the Sun Belt schedule, but they face one of their stiffest tests on the schedule Saturday as they travel to San Marcos to take on the Texas State Bobcats. Texas State would love to pull the upset and put themselves in the driver's seat for a bowl bid, but how they perform will be dependent on which team gets picked from the Bobcat Multiple Personality Disorder Basket™.
How to Beat the Bobcats
- BLOW UP THE DEFENSIVE TACKLE(S): Navy's triple option that Texas State faced in Game 2 spreads the defense by testing its edges as well as harassing (and injuring) defenders with nasty cut blocks, but Georgia Southern instead prefers to smash straight through the middle of the defense. That's not good news for a defense that just gave up 235 rushing yards to New Mexico State and whose Achilles' Heel is a defensive tackle unit that's slow and undersized. Dallas McClarty is the only DT who has done anything of real consequence recently with 3 TFL in the past three games, but he's only had 9 total tackles during that span as well.
- KNOCK THE WIDE RECEIVERS OFF THEIR ROUTES: Much has been made about Tyler Jones's accuracy issues and the offensive line's problems with giving him enough time in the pocket, but his receivers have let him down as well. Aside from the longstanding problems with dropping catchable passes, the receivers and tight ends haven't shown great route-running ability consistently since the Tulsa game. Southern has been occasionally susceptible to giving up big plays, so it'll be interesting to see if they can consistently take away passing lanes over the middle.
- TRY GOING UP TEMPO: NMSU went no huddle against the Bobcats, and it worked: They racked up 639 yards and at times confused even the comparatively stalwart linebacking group. Other teams, such as Illinois, have also run the no huddle successfully against the Bobcats. Although GSU isn't exactly known for their up tempo attack, Willie Fritz might be wise to try a series or two in the hurry up to try and catch John Thompson's defense off guard.
How to Beat the Eagles
- STOP THE RUN: Simple, right? Well, about that... It requires shutting down so many different people that it's almost impossible. That's the reason Georgia Southern is averaging over 400 yards rushing per game. Kevin Ellison or Favian Upshaw (whichever is in at QB) are both home run threats. I'm not sure if Upshaw isn't a bigger threat than Ellison, honestly. He's much faster. But then there's Matt Breida and LA Ramsby at running back. Breida has - I believe - eight runs this season that are 50+ yard touchdown runs. If he gets to the second level, you better hope your safeties have a good angle. Ramsby is shifty, but he's also a great power back who will take you straight on. Got those shut down? Well, we'll just pitch it to the wide receivers on the edge. That's a staple of the old triple option with the A-back/Slot Back position, but the Eagles' WRs have taken on the role in a big way in the past two games. Oh, and they're pretty good at catching the football, too. Loading the box? Receivers in one-on-one? Look for a deep ball. I am an old school lover of the triple option as much as any Georgia Southern fan, but I have to admit that this may be my favorite offense the Eagles have ever had.
- CONTROL THE BALL: Georgia Southern's offense is very hard to stop defensively. So what's the best way to defend it? Keep the ball away. Play ball-control offense, and take advantage of any turnovers the Eagles make. Georgia Southern is prone to fumbles just because of how often the football is flying around on pitches and zone reads. It's the old tried-and-true method of stopping an offense like Georgia Southern's. Keep the ball away from them to begin with and take advantage of every one of your own offensive possessions.
- THROW IT DEEP: Georgia Southern's red zone defense has actually been pretty good this season. They aren't allowing too many touchdown passes in the red zone, and they're pretty decent at shutting down the run, too. Of Georgia State's touchdowns against the Eagles two weeks ago, all but one of them were deep balls that took advantage of match-ups that heavily favored the excellent Georgia State WR. One big help for Georgia Southern is that I believe all of the players on the defensive line who have been injured are back for this game.
Will: Some Bobcat fans have talked themselves into a win on Saturday, and I want to believe them. I want to believe that Texas State will finally play disciplined football at home against a good team. I want to believe that the offensive line will keep Tyler Jones upright long enough to throw downfield to receivers that are running their routes correctly. I want to believe that Robert Lowe and Terrence Franks will have plenty of room to run because of a resurgent passing attack forcing Georgia Southern to avoid throwing 8 in the box at them or having their secondary play 5 yards off the line of scrimmage.
I want to believe that Dallas McClarty is going to morph into a man-beast the size of a three story office building and, together with Michael Odiari and David Mayo, wreck Breida and Ellison's rushing attack. I want to believe that Craig Mager won't lose his man when Georgia Southern does decide to throw, or that David Mims II won't whiff on a huge tackle when they decide to test his side of the field. And I really want to believe that, when faced with a big game, this team won't fly off the handle (Navy) or roll over (UL Lafayette).
I want to believe that all of these things will happen in one glorious demolition of a performance against a real team not named Arkansas-Pine Bluff. However, my head overrules my heart by noting that we haven't seen any evidence in four years to suggest that Texas State under Dennis Franchione can put it all together against a truly good team. Coach Fran, if you want a "never tell me the odds" moment, the time is now.
Georgia Southern 42, Texas State 28
Walt: I'd love to say "this is all about revenge for 2005!" but reality is that game is literally (!) half a life-time ago for our freshmen. I highly doubt many players on this team even knew who Georgia Southern was in 2005. I remember, though. So it is about revenge for me. Haisten Willis wrote an article about the fall-out from that game, but to put it shortly the 2005 loss to Texas State is what sent Georgia Southern into a four year spiral that we only pulled out of with the Jeff Monken hire after the 2009 season.
I think the Eagles will move the football. I doubt Georgia Southern will get 400+ yards rushing against Texas State, but I do think the Eagles will still be able to effectively move the ball and score points. I expect Texas State will be able to do the same for a good bit of the game. I do think that having so much to play for - the Sun Belt championship is within the Eagles' grasp, and even a bowl IF the stars perfectly align (which I really don't think they will, but I can dream, right?) will push the Eagles to play even harder.
They're hearing the talk about not playing every one of the best teams in the conference and they know Texas State is a very good team and will want to make a statement. Will they do so? I think the statement they'll make is a win, but it won't be a big win. It's not going to be on the level of the last few games. I predict a hard fought game and the Eagles will win 34-24.