The game was over long before the clock struck zero at the end of the 4th Quarter. The game was over before the clock struck zero at the end of the 1st Quarter. The outcome of this game was determined from the time it was put on the schedule. The Eagles put up eighty-three points, but that was only six points more than they scored in last year's season opener against this Savannah State team. The series between these two teams has produced similar results in almost every game.
Saturday night in newly-expanded Allen E. Paulson Stadium wasn't really about the game on the field. Saturday night was about the realization of a dream. The Eagles may have opened FBS play against North Carolina State last weekend, but on September 6th, 2014, Georgia Southern stepped out onto the field for the first time at the stadium they lovingly refer to as "Our House" as a football team playing at the highest level of college football.
When Erk Russell shocked the state of Georgia by taking on the job of rebuilding long-dormant Georgia Southern football from scratch in 1981, he said his dream was for Georgia Southern to play Division 1 football. Georgia Southern technically realized that dream soon afterwards by moving into Division 1-AA (now FCS) in 1984 and dominating during Erk's tenure. The Eagles were a powerhouse in the lower-tier of Division 1 for three decades. However, sometimes technically correct isn't the best kind of correct. To fully realize Erk's dream, the Eagles needed to play FBS football.
Two games into their first season as an FBS team, things have gone about as well as most Georgia Southern fans expected. Prior to the season, I believe most chalked the NCSU game up as a loss and SSU as a big win. The NCSU game should have been a victory, and SSU was exactly what was expected. There are a lot of excellent things to take away from the first two games if you're an Eagle fan.
Georgia Southern scorched Savannah State's defense to the tune of 599 yards on the ground and added 96 yards through the air for a total of 695 total yards. Ten different Eagles carried the football, and many of the yards gained on the ground occurred in the second half after even the second team players were pulled. Georgia Southern scored a touchdown on every possession except the one-play drive to end the first half. The offense ran like a well-oiled machine no matter who played QB (Kevin Ellison and Favian Upshaw rotated in the first half) or RB. There were very few passing plays, but two of them resulted in long touchdown passes to Kentrellis Showers.
The only negative take-away from this game is some question about kicking arising, again. Alex Hanks' opening kickoff went out of bounds, and he also missed one of his extra point attempts. There were no field goal attempts by the Eagles, though, so it's hard to tell if these were just aberrations or signs of issues remaining with the kicking game. One of his field goals against NCSU did just barely squeak through the uprights, after all.
That out of the way, let's look at the positives:
Turnovers. I mentioned the fumble last week, which was even more painful since it was self-inflicted on QB/Center exchange. There were zero turnovers by the Eagles during this game, and three by Savannah State. I'll take +3 in turnovers any day.
Passing. The initial stats indicated Georgia Southern threw for over 100 yards, but that was later revised to only 96. What's important is how pretty those two touchdown passes were. Even more important is that both QBs were responsible for one. I'm no QB coach, but Ellison looked to have the better throwing motion. Still, they were both great passes thrown right on the money. An accurate QB in an offense like Georgia Southern's is deadly. A run-heavy offense results in one-on-one match-ups in the secondary quite often, and sometimes a WR is left wide open. A QB with the ability to exploit that is a prize indeed.
A Herd of Running Backs. More than a stable, Georgia Southern has a herd. I honestly can't remember if a running back has worn the #36 since Joe Ross, but Breida has proven he's worthy of Ross' number. Walk-on Brandon Thomas - the punt returner - ended the night with more yards than any other running back and may work his way into the conversation for more playing time at running back.
Tackling. The defense tackled well and made some great plays. This is especially true of the first string defense in the first half who never allowed SSU to cross the 50 yard line.
The Stadium. It looked beautiful on TV. The broadcast didn't appear to be in crisp HD, but wow it was still impressive to see that new deck filled with fans.
It's really going to look beautiful when App State comes to town for the ESPNU broadcasted game on September 25th. I'm going to have to DVR that one, though. I decided this morning that I'm going to take some vacation and make the drive to Statesboro for that game and see the new stadium in person a little earlier than I originally planned.
Two games into the season and the Eagles are 1-1 and should have been 2-0. Next up is a trip to Atlanta to face Georgia Tech. This will be my first chance to see Willie Fritz's Eagles in person, but it will be a bitter sweet game in some ways. I'll have more on that during the week, though. For now, the Eagles are where most expected them to be at this point: 1-1 and showing that they have the tools to be successful in the Sun Belt.