Losing to NC State late in the Eagles' first FBS game was rough. Losing to Georgia Tech on a fumble-that-wasn't-a-fumble was horrifying. Losing to UGA as we did is... different. Sure, I could be a lot more upset that an inadvertent whistle should have caused the muffed punt to be a do-over, but in the end, the Eagles had plenty more time left to try to take the game, themselves.
Georgia started strong in this one, scoring quickly on their first drive. The Eagles were able to move some on their third drive of the game, led by Favian Upshaw, but the Eagles missed the field goal. Upshaw had a good game with starter Kevin Ellison hampered by an injury. Fortunately, Georgia missed their FG attempt on the ensuing drive, and the Eagles were finally able to convert a touchdown.
The offense never really got going in the second half with the exception of the one drive leading to a field goal by Younghoe Koo. That one was a big response, since it came immediately following Georgia's touchdown from the muffed punt. Georgia responded with a field goal of their own, and then it was just trading punts until over time.
Georgia Southern had a chance on their last drive in regulation with great field position, but couldn't get the ball inside Koo's range.
Overtime was... well, that was painful. I just don't understand the direct snaps. When your quarterback is so effective as a runner himself, why remove one of the focuses from the equation? At that point, everyone knew where the ball was going, and against Georgia's defensive line, that's just not a great idea. At least not to me.
Georgia's first play of the over time period was the last play of the game. The Eagles, faced with having to completely stop Georgia from scoring, appeared to be demoralized, and Michel slipped through the whole line for the east score and the victory.
Georgia fans will say this is one of the worst offenses they've had in years, and they would be right. That still doesn't change that they needed over time and some fortuitous calls by the officials to beat Georgia Southern. Many of the Eagles' key playmakers are still players who were recruited for an FCS squad, and yet they're more than playing up to the FBS level.
Like the Georgia Tech loss, this one is going to hurt for a while, because the opportunity was right there for the taking. This one will hurt even worse, though, because it's highly unlikely Georgia Southern will ever get a chance at it again. There's a reason UGA wanted this game moved up to a year where the majority of the Eagles' players were "FCS caliber" rather than giving them another year to recruit at the FBS level. Georgia Tech at least isn't scared to schedule Georgia Southern again immediately following a near loss. Georgia, however? I'd be shocked if the Eagles ever set foot in Samford Stadium again. The risk - as was proven Saturday night - is just too great.
Fighting Hard. The Eagles weren't able to get the offense going the way they wanted, but that's not unexpected against what is the toughest defense they've played all season. They still fought and made plays, though. The defense played spectacularly. They made good tackles, forced turnovers, and got into the backfield. They made enough plays that I was on the edge of my seat in a bar ready to go insane until the very end. I'll take that against an SEC team any day.
Favian Upshaw. Kevin Ellison is still slowed by an injury, and it showed. Upshaw did a fantastic job in relief. As frustrating as the rotation between the two can be at times, it was nights like Saturday night that show why the Eagles do it. Upshaw is ready to face the best of the best if he's needed to.
The Fans. I understand the Eagles had quite the crowd in Athens. That type of fan support is huge for the program in a number of ways. It means bowls will want us. It means that the Eagles are a choice pick if conference realignment comes along because the fans are willing to travel.
The Muffed Punt. More on this in a second as it relates to the call that was made, but you have to address the fact that if wouldn't have been an issue if Keaton just fielded the punt. I wasn't able to hear the audio, though, so maybe he just kinda gave up on it because he heard a whistle. Even with the whistle, though, you still have to make the play. I hope Keaton doesn't beat himself up too much over it, though. And I hope Georgia Southern FANS don't beat him up (figuratively, obviously) over it, either.
The Direct Snaps. I already hit on this a bit, but I just really don't understand it. Unless there was a call in there for the back who took the snap to do a quick screen pass, why remove another serious running threat from the equation? I do not disagree with the decision to go for it on 4th down in over time at all. I think it was the right choice given the field position. However, I just can't see why this particular call was made.
THE CALL. Ok. So. Let's talk about this. The way I understand it now is that there was, in fact, an inadvertent whistle during the punt in question. So, regardless of whether it was a muffed punt with a clear recovery, the correct answer should have been the play is erased and you replay 4th down. Since Georgia wasn't able to get much of anything going on offense in the second half, that play led directly to their short field and only touchdown of the half.
That... that's frustrating. That might be even worse than the Georgia Tech incident. At least in that one I can see how the officials could convince themselves that "no, really, I swear the ball was moving backwards!"*** In this one, the rule should have been clear. There was a whistle before play was finished. Play is dead. Replay the down.
Did that one play cost Georgia Southern the game? It's possible. We can't say that with absolute certainty since there was still so much time left. It sure did go a long way towards it, though. How much more motivation would the Eagles have played with if they drive down for a field goal and a ten point lead in the 4th quarter? The defense was playing lights out. I think the seven point lead would have been enough if Georgia hadn't been given a short field, but that's just me.
***No, I can't, that ball clearly moved forward.
Another step. This game was just another step in announcing to the world that Georgia Southern will not quietly become just another G5 team. The Eagles have a history and a culture of winning. We didn't abandon that when we left the FCS. We didn't move up with the intention of saying "please, sir, may I have another?" while collecting a pay check from the big boys. You schedule Georgia Southern, you best be ready for the fight of your lives. Hell is an offense that runs through you like shit through a tin horn, and your devil is the memory of a bald man and a milk jug of dirty old water.
It's building. Every year, with every recruiting class, it's just going to get stronger. There's a ton of talent in the state of Georgia and the southeast in general that goes up north when they don't get into an SEC school. Now they have a place to play close to home with a history of winning and scaring/shocking the big boys.
"But Willie Fritz won't be there, forever!" No, he won't. Erk was the coach for 6 official NCAA years. Paul Johnson for five. Jeff Monken for four. Fritz now for two. Every one of those has just continued to build on a tradition of winning. It says the program was great before each coach after Erk got there, and it's always going to be great. Sure, Coach Fritz will eventually leave. However, I guarantee you that there are young, excellent, hungry coaches out there looking for something to prove and knowing that they're going to have a chance to prove it on the sandy soil of Southeast Georgia.
Two years ago that wasn't the case. Willie Fritz proved the other coaches who doubted what could be done at Georgia Southern wrong, though. I hope he stays as long as he wants at Georgia Southern, but he's put the Eagles even more on the map than they were before, and the sky is the limit from there. We'll continue marching along with the Fritzkrieg as long as we can and enjoying every step of it. All the way to the Eagles' first bowl game and hopefully first bowl victory.
Hail Southern, and no place else.