First, I just have to say that this is a game that needs to happen on the regular. Georgia Tech doesn't exactly sell out non-UGA games very often, and this game was slap full (aside from the Georgia Tech student section, which was quite empty). Georgia Southern has a sizable Atlanta alumni base and it showed on Saturday.
I would estimate that at least 30% of the stadium, possibly even more, were fans of the blue and white rather than the white and gold. It made for an electric atmosphere and was a whole lot of fun. It's a great series that both teams should desire to see continued.
The product on the field was worthy of that atmosphere. You can check out newcomer Haisten Willis' recap for the complete details. To sum it up as briefly as possible, the phrase "a tale of two halves" describes this one - pun intended - to a "T." Georgia Tech jumped out and seemed unstoppable on offense. Georgia Southern moved the ball well at times, but stalled at others. The score was 35-10 in favor of the home team at the half.
In the second half a Georgia Southern defense that was gashed repeatedly in the first half suddenly bucked up and shut the door on Georgia Tech's offense. Meanwhile, Kevin Ellison hit a groove, some big plays, and suddenly Georgia Southern had the lead 38-35 with half of a quarter to play. The Georgia Southern crowd was going insane as back-up Favian Upshaw drove the offense down the field on what looked to be a sure scoring drive to go up 10 points.
I just... I'm still not over it. Two days later and I'm not over it. I don't think I'll ever be over it.
I understand all of the arguments about how officials don't really cost someone a game because Georgia Southern's defense could have played better in the first half, or the offense scored more in the first half, etc. I get that. I really do. But even with all of that, Georgia Southern fought back through it all (with some other questionable spots and penalties) and took the lead. I don't know that Georgia Southern would have scored a touchdown on that drive. Georgia Tech may still have won.
But as Mike Pereira pointed out, over-turning that call of a forward pass is against the spirit of the replay rules. Replay is supposed to correct egregious errors, not make judgement calls on a play that can really go either way. So in this case, the replay officials directly interjected themselves into the game play and likely affected the outcome of the game. Had it been a clear fumble or had Georgia Southern been stopped and missed a field goal, or anything else I would be upset, but I would be ok. I just can't stand that something like this cost the Eagles an opportunity to win the game.
Let's get on to some other thoughts.
Balance on offense. When Georgia Southern needed to throw the football, they were able to throw the football. When they needed to run the football, they were able to run the football. 283 yards rushing and 245 yards passing for a total of 528 yards. That's fantastic. Especially when you consider it was against an ACC team.
That being said, it was also against a Ted Roof defense, and as an Auburn fan I know all about Ted Roof defenses.
In two games against ACC foes, Georgia Southern's offense has rushed for 529 yards and thrown for 437 yards. Counting the Savannah State game, Georgia Southern is currently ranked as the fourth most efficient football team in terms of offense according to ESPN's Football Power Index. Kevin Ellison finished Week 3 ranked #2 for the week in ESPN's QBR with a score of 98.9 and was awarded Sun Belt Co-Offensive Player of the Week by the Conference on Monday. Those are some pretty good stats for a team running a new system.
Enough cannot be said about the play of the wide receivers, either. Kentrellis Showers has been playing on a whole new level, this season. His move behind and back inside the Georgia Tech DB on the deep 1st down pass with 7:37 to go in the 3rd quarter was perfect. BJ Johnson's 68 yard touchdown catch was beautiful. Zach Walker is catching most everything thrown his way again. Wide receivers who languished in an offense that rarely threw the football for three years are getting to show their skills and it is fun to watch.
Multiple Quarterbacks. I know the old adage is if you have two quarterbacks then you don't have really have one, but sometimes you just have two really good quarterbacks. Right now I think Ellison is the best option, but if he can't go then I am very confident in Upshaw handling the reigns. Upshaw played well in relief of Ellison late in the game when Ellison went out with a reported injury. I would prefer to see Ellison play unless he's physically incapable of it rather than rotating them (more on that in a bit), but I do believe both can handle the offense and lead the Eagles to victory.
No Quit. Down 35-10 at the half and after being throttled in Time of Possession and worn down throughout the 1st half, it would be easy to understand the defense struggling to make stops in the second half. This Eagle team came out and took control from the kickoff and didn't let up for the rest of the game. A team that will fight back from a 25 point deficit on the road is a team with potential to win a lot of football games. I would love to know what went on in that locker room during the half.
1st Half. I don't know Xs and Os that well, so I can't say with certainty what Georgia Tech was doing to give Georgia Southern's defense fits. There were some coverage issues, and there was failure to capitalize on 3rd and long situations. Whatever it was, it was painful to watch.
Rotations. This is purely my opinion, and the coaches know a lot more than I do, but I hated to see Ellison and Upshaw get rotated in and out during that 1st half. Ellison played great when he was given the reigns in the 2nd half right up until the injury that reportedly sidelined him for the last drives. I can't help but wonder if he might have hit a rhythm sooner if he had not been rotated out.
I also understand the need to have multiple backs, but - again, in my own not-very-educated opinion - Breida is the feature back. He has better patience to wait for and vision to identify holes, and then hits those holes faster once he sees them. Ramsby made some excellent plays, but I think Breida deserves the lion's share of the carries at the running back position.
Turnovers. I don't believe we really had one. I still think that was a forward pass. However, it's better to never be in the situation where it is even a question. For two teams that have struggled with turnovers in the last few seasons, a game with only one turnover (and that questionable) is amazing. I really thought Georgia Southern needed to be +2 in the turnover category to be able to win this game. We finished -1 and still should have pulled it out.
The Way Forward
The real season starts now for the Eagles. There is only one non-conference game left on the schedule, a November 15th date with the Naval Academy. The rest of the schedule is full of Sun Belt Conference foes. After being picked to finish near the bottom by various media outlets leading up to the season, ESPN's Football Power Index currently rates the Eagles as the highest team in the Sun Belt and predicts that the Eagles will roll through the Sun Belt schedule unscathed.
The closest games are predicted to be this weekend's trip to Mobile to play South Alabama and the November 8th trip to San Marcos to take on Texas State. This is based purely on probabilities, but it is still nice to see the promise it holds for the Eagles' future. Barring some very strange circumstances that trigger clauses I've never seen used, the Eagles are ineligible to play in a post-season bowl game this year. They can still win the Sun Belt, though.
The crowd at Georgia Tech was excellent this weekend. How many of you are making the trip with me to Mobile? I'll see you there Saturday night.