The Georgia Southern Eagles hadn't faced a true road test yet in the Sun Belt Conference, and the Texas State Bobcats certainly gave them one. Despite being outgained by 170 yards and facing a furious late comeback attempt by Texas State, the Eagles (8-2, 7-0 SBC) barely held on for a 28-25 victory and (possibly) all but clinched a Sun Belt title.
A Tale of Two Halves
Georgia Southern got after their asses early as Kevin Ellison took advantage of some missed tackles and perhaps some Bobcat frustration over the world's worst pass interference call on Craig Mager extending the GSU drive to bust a 41 yard gain on an option keeper. Matt Breida would plunge in from the 1 yard line a few minutes later, and L.A. Ramsby would later ram his way through the Bobcat defense to set up a 4 yard touchdown.
Texas State's offense continuously stalled in the 1st half as GSU put pressure on Tyler Jones to force some inaccurate throws ahead of and behind his receivers, who couldn't catch a pass to save their lives. Georgia Southern went into half up 14-3, but at the time the gap felt much wider.
The hits just kept coming after halftime as Tyler Jones threw a bad interception right into the hands of Antonio Glover, who was covering intended receiver Bradley Miller entirely too close to merit a throw his way. Breida soon busted loose for a 43 yard touchdown scamper as the trenches parted on a broken play by the defense.
At that point, something seemed to snap in the minds of the Bobcat coaches and players and Texas State came out swinging.
The Bobcats drove downfield after a Matt Dobson late hit extended their drive and Jones connected with a shockingly wide open Ryan Carden who only had a linebacker trailing 10 yards behind him for a 32 yard touchdown strike. Despite the 21-10 deficit being the same as the 11 points difference at half, it suddenly felt like Texas State was back in it.
After Texas State's suddenly revitalized defense stuffed Georgia Southern's rushing attack into a three and out, the Bobcats came out throwing haymakers once again. Tyler Jones threw and ran his way down into the GSU red zone. The Bobcats stalled on a 4th and 1, and Dennis Franchione had a choice to make: either kick the field goal and hold a manageable one score deficit of 8, or try and plunge it in.
Coach Fran rolled the dice, and lost in spectacular fashion.
Texas State ran up to the line quickly out of the huddle, snapped the ball, and Tyler Jones surveyed the field looking for a receiver. However, he got pressured quickly by the GSU d-line, and he was forced into a bad throw. The sophomore quarterback tried to float it over Matt Dobson's head to a receiver, but instead it floated right into his hands. Dobson then ran it back 100 yards for a backbreaking pick six to end the 3rd quarter.
However, Texas State kept fighting. After both teams exchanged three and outs, the Bobcats drove down the field as they reeled off a methodical 14 play, 87 yard drive under GSU's prevent defense to eventually plunge Robert Lowe in from the 1 with 6:17 left to make it 28-17, Eagles.
That's when Dennis Franchione made a call that shocked everyone in Bobcat Stadium and perhaps even himself. He had his team line up in a regular kickoff formation, and had Will Johnson go for the onside. It worked.
As those of the 16,772 fans who hadn't already left were whipped into a frenzy, Texas State drove down the field again but stalled at the GSU 30. Once again, Texas State lined up in shotgun on a 4th and less than 1. This time, the call wasn't as surprising: Jones handed a zone read look off to Robert Lowe up the middle, but GSU sniffed it out immediately.
Texas State fans agonized over yet another missed opportunity, but the Bobcat defense stepped up once again to force a punt. The Bobcats drove down the field again as Jones struck found Ben Ijah and Lawrence White again and again until White caught a beauty of a 6 yard TD pass with 1:05 left. Tyler Jones then made a heroic effort on the two point conversion as he stepped up in the pocket, took it himself, and, arms outstretched, plunged the ball in the end zone.
GSU, clinging to a 28-25 lead, then recovered the onside kick. However, on first down L. A. Ramsby amazingly fumbled the ball on a hit by Dallas McClarty. Everyone wearing maroon and gold thought Texas State recovered. They didn't. More agony. Meanwhile, 13 seconds had elapsed in the confusion as the Bobcats didn't get one of their two timeouts in until the 50 second mark. GSU then ran out the clock.
Oh, what could've been.
Good teams find a way to win in adverse circumstances, and GSU made just enough huge plays when it mattered. However, their near collapse and close final outcome will do little to silence the critics in Lafayette and Jonesboro who believe that the Eagles wouldn't match up to them. GSU fans won't and shouldn't care about that, because they're a home win over ULM away from a perfect conference slate and a Sun Belt title.
However, there was also a lot to be encouraged about for Texas State. The Bobcats' 2nd half defensive effort after the blown play on Breida's early run in the 3rd quarter was nothing less than inspired as Trey McGowen, David Mayo, and Michael Odiari shut down the vaunted GSU triple option. If Texas State uses aggressive playcalling to get Jones and his receivers into a rhythm like in the 2nd half against GSU, they could beat South Alabama next week and Georgia State on the road to secure a 7-5 record and a potential bowl.