Georgia Southern came very close to having the fastest knockout in college football this season. They were the second fastest of the week. According to that metric, Louisiana-Monroe was out of this game four minutes and one second into the contest.
It's not a perfect metric, but it's designed to show outside of margin of victory just how much one team controlled the game. Sure, the Warhawks pulled within one score, but overall Georgia Southern dictated the way the game played out after the blocked punt.
The Good, The Bad, And the...
Whistle blows. Flag hits ground. "Unsportsmanlike conduct. On the Writer. Criticizing the officials."
Let's take a look at some things we learned from the Eagles' trip to Louisiana.
The Ground Game. Last year's statistics didn't officially count due to the "transitional status" of the Eagles, so Georgia Southern wasn't able to claim the best rushing offense in the nation. That is not the case, now. After five games, the Eagles are once again on top of the country in rushing yards per game. Even with the poor showing against West Virginia, Georgia Southern is averaging 377.4 ypg. The Eagles also lead in total rushing yards with 1887.
What's amazing about this stat is that it is almost entirely due to our two quarterbacks and three running backs. In the past, the wealth was spread between QBs, B-backs, and A-backs. Now it's all focused on the primary back field. If Georgia Southern starts to incorporate some pitch plays to receivers like we used last season at times, this could get out of hand, and who wants that?
The Defensive Turnovers. Can I count the blocked punt as a turnover for purposes of this section? I'm counting the blocked punt. Even if cfbstats.com doesn't. That was such a fantastic way to start the game for the Eagles. It was a real kick right in those WWII aircraft art styled teeth on their shoulders. Then there were three interceptions to go with it.
After starting the season -5 in the turnover margin with the horrible West Virginia game, the Eagles are now (not counting the blocked punt, since cfbstats.com doesn't play the way I want) back up to +5. That means the Eagles have been +10 in turnovers over the last four games. That would be a great stat even assuming the Eagles didn't ever give the ball up themselves, but they unfortunately have turned it over four times themselves since the West Virginia game. Without the West Virginia game, Georgia Southern would be +9 for the season.
This defense may give up a lot of yards over the course of the year, but they're also one of the better threats in the nation to take the ball away from you.
Not Capitalizing on Turnovers. The blocked punt aside, Georgia Southern had three turnovers and the worst field position the Eagles got out of them was starting on our own 46. When that happens, you have to come away with more than just 3 points off turnovers. This is why I love the "knockout" concept. This could have been a huge blowout. Instead, we allowed the Warhawks back into the game and almost made a game of it.
The Onside Kick. I just don't understand this. It's not the first time we've done it, either, and it's not the first time it's backfired. The onside/squib kick gave the Warhawks a short field and allowed them to score and go into halftime only down 21 rather than 28. Kick it deep. Make them drive the field and get a field goal at best.
Throwing On Obvious Passing Downs. I know the Eagles need to work on throwing the football. However, obvious passing downs isn't the time to work on it. Or if you're going to do that, make sure it's a pass that will end up in a big play, an incompletion, or an arm-punt. I had just remarked to everyone watching the game with me that we needed to do what we do best and run the football right as Ellison threw the pick 6. The fact that it came right after Georgia Southern had already failed to capitalize on another interception just made it worse. The Warhawks kept giving Georgia Southern chances to put the game away, and the Eagles kept giving it right back.
Place Kicking. I hesitated to put this in "bad." Hanks was 1/2 on Field Goals. That's not ideal, but everyone misses. He'd been perfect on the year to that point, too. It was the missed extra point that worried me. Missing those has been an issue for the Eagles over the last few years. Hanks is still 22/23 on the season, but the two misses in one game make me worry. Hopefully he'll shake those off and return to the form he's been in so far this season.
Penalties. Louisiana Monroe is one of the most penalized teams in all of football, so maybe that had something to do with it. Georgia Southern has been excellent on penalties all season long, averaging 3.5/game until Saturday. Then they racked up 12 against the Warhawks. ULM was right at their average with 10 penalties (they average 10.8/game). Whatever it was, it was bad. There were 22 flags thrown Saturday. The refs were expending flags faster than a government agency spending money on September 30th. It was like they were afraid they wouldn't get any for the next game if they didn't use them all in this one.
I'm not too worried about this overall, since it was just one game in a season filled with very few penalties. It's still concerning. Especially the personal fouls. Hopefully this gets cleared up over the bye week.
I really like where Georgia Southern is at, right now. The offense is clicking on the ground. The line is opening holes. The running backs are finding them. I think the Eagles have the best backfield combination in all of college football, right now.
The true test is still coming on October 22nd. That trip to Boone is looking like it will be the defacto Conference Title game. There's still one more tune up before hand, though, as Georgia Southern takes on New Mexico State in a game with one of the more hilarious hash tags I've seen created. I'll be there for that one.
I'll see you all in the Boro!