Good afternoon, everyone. Long time, no see! When the offseason rolled around I found myself swamped with trying to keep the Auburn site CollegeAndMagnolia.com up and running "in good standing," and that kept me from being able to write too much about the Eagles. It didn't help that my duties at work have changed and that's kept me busier, as well.
So, here we are. Two weeks into the season and Georgia Southern is 1-1. How we got there is a tale of two completely different games. It was the worst of times, it was the best of times.
I honestly don't know what happened in this game. If you haven't read Steven Godfrey's story on his week with Georgia Southern, you should definitely check it out. I really thought Georgia Southern might have a chance to go up to Morgantown and shock the Mountaineers. Woo boy, was I wrong.
So what went wrong? I think it was a combination of a number of factors. First was replacing four starters on the offensive line. That's going to cause growing pains no matter who you are. Fortunately, as we'll see in a bit, the old adage of teams improving the most from Week 1 to Week 2 appeared to hold true for Georgia Southern. The running game didn't get going early, and a few early interceptions while trying to open the running game let West Virginia knock the Eagles out of their game plan.
It didn't help that the starting quarterback wasn't playing. That's not a very good excuse, though. Favian Upshaw is neck-and-neck with Kevin Ellison in my opinion. I do believe Ellison is better at running the offense as a whole, but Upshaw may be a better passer. He also wasn't inexperienced. He took the third series of every half last season, and a few others besides.
Then there was giving West Virginia a period of months to prepare for the offense. It's one thing to catch a team off guard when they're in the middle of the season and don't have time to prepare for you, but when they have all of fall practice to get ready... that can hurt. It's one of the reasons Paul Johnson's teams haven't done as well in bowl games. That's especially true when you're going up against a very tough defense with some fantastic defensive backs.
All of this combined for a perfect storm. West Virginia's offense took apart the Eagle defensive backfield with deep bombs and the Mountaineers walked away with an easy win. Georgia Southern's offense sputtered and left many wondering whether it had been "figured out."
Then came the Broncos. One week after welcoming Michigan State to their home stadium in Kalamazoo (Hey, Michigan State, want to come to Statesboro?) and giving the Spartans a nice challenge, PJ Fleck rowed his boat all the way down to the Gnat Capital of America. This game was circled on my calendar as being a marque match-up for the Eagles in their early FBS lives.
Western Michigan drove down and put three points on the board on their first possession, and then the Eagles took over. The Broncos wouldn't score again until seconds before the first half ended as Georgia Southern rolled up three touchdowns on the legs of Matt Breida. Antonio Glover snagged three interceptions - including one with an assist from the referee. The Eagles added a safety to the mix, as well, when the long-snapper snapped a ball over the Western Michigan punter's head.
The score right before the half could have given the Broncos some momentum, but Georgia Southern got the ball first in the second half. That's when Matt Breida did Matt Breida things. On the second play of the half he hit the edge and Western Michigan found themselves with only one DB and a bad angle with even a chance to catch him. It takes a special type of speed to run down Matt Breida, though, and no one on the WMU defense could do it. Seventy yards later, Breida added to his already impressive resume of 50+ yard touchdown runs.
Alex Hanks would tack on two field goals and LA Ramsby picked up another running touchdown for the Eagles, and that was more than enough to find the home team running away (pun intended) with a 43-17 victory.
Western Michigan's quarterback threw for 365 yards against the Spartans in Week 1. The Eagles D held him to 227 and three interceptions. The run defense was comparable, as well. The Broncos tried to open up a run game, but the Big Heavies on that defensive line weren't having any of it, to the tune of only 25 yards allowed on 26 attempts. Now I'm not going to compare the Spartans to the Eagles in terms of defense, but that's still a heartening performance following the Week 1 debacle against West Virginia.
As for the offense, well, Georgia Southern got back to doing what it does best: running the football down your throat. 413 yards on the ground vs 7 yards passing. That sounds like a Georgia Southern box score, for sure. It was a thing of beauty, too. The offensive line was firing off the ball and opening up lanes that just weren't there the week before. Now Georgia Southern has one more non-conference game against an FCS team that is familiar with the option to test them before getting into defending that Sun Belt Conference crown.
What's to like and not like so far? It's hard to tell, really. The two samples we have are so opposed from one another that it's hard to draw any concrete conclusions. However, I go back to what I said about Week 1 to Week 2 improvements. If the games were reversed, I might be a bit concerned. Since the Eagles looked much better in Week 2, I'm feeling a lot happier.
That's not to say I'm happy, though. Without those three interceptions, this may have been a completely different game. Counterfactuals really are pointless, though, since the fact is that those INTs DID happen, and therefore we praise our defense accordingly. Given that he put up good numbers against Michigan State the week before, I think it's safe to say the Eagles faced a good quarterback. They faced a good one in Week 1, too, though. The passing defense is going to need to show consistent good games before I start feeling a lot more confident about playing some of the offenses on our schedule.
As for the Eagles offense, I think they're going along just fine. The offensive line took a major step in getting closer to last season's level. If they can reach that level, then we should see a lot of fireworks and a lot more of Matt Breida just doing his thing. Breida isn't the only one, either. I love the patience LA Ramsby runs with as he is always looking for a hole and those few extra yards. Then there's freshman Wesley Fields, who had an impressive 82 yards on six carries. The passing worries me a bit, but we'll see what happens when Kevin Ellison returns.
Enough can't be said about the Special Teams performance, either. The kickoff coverage was PHENOMENAL. I kept hearing the ESPN3 announcers (who were just, the worst, by the way) hyping the WMU return man, only to have the Eagles kick coverage team take him to the ground inside his own 15 and force turnovers. Then there's Alex Hanks, who was consistent with his place kicking all night. Consistent place kicking has been, lacking, shall we say, over the past few years, and I hope it's finally come together.
The Western Michigan game was exactly what the Eagles needed. They took on a tough out-of-conference opponent from a comparable conference and came away with a big, convincing victory. Hopefully this gives them the confidence to go all the way to the post season as repeat conference champions.