Start Time: 7:30 p.m. ET, Thursday, Oct. 27
Location: Allen E. Paulson Stadium, Statesboro, Georgia
TV/Streaming: ESPN U
Records: Georgia Southern (4-3, 3-1 Sun Belt), Appalachian State (5-2, 3-0 Sun Belt)
Weather: 68 degrees at kickoff. 88 percent humidity. 2 mph winds.
Betting Line: Appalachian State -5.5. Over/Under of 44.5.
Georgia Southern Outlook
As the Eagles come off of a four game stretch in which the team went 1-3 (should have been 2-2), they will look to get right against its biggest rival in Appalachian State.
And for GS to have a chance in this one, they will have to play better than they have all season. The Mountaineers aren’t going to play down to their level.
This season has been a consistent struggle to accumulate wins under new head coach Tyson Summers. Every game feels like a slog to get through, and its co-offensive coordinators, David Dean and Rance Gillespie, are making it tough to keep hope alive with the play calling.
But a win on Thursday night could make the Eagles entire season.
If the team somehow manages to defeat its longtime rival and move to 4-1 in conference while handing its Sun Belt foe a loss, it will give the entire team a boost of confidence going forward.
The biggest problem is that the team lacks a solid offensive identity.
Gillespie and Dean seemingly think that this Southern team requires three different offenses under its three QB’s. When Kevin Ellison is in, it runs a lot of the same spread option attack that it has for the previous two seasons.
Favian Upshaw’s presence as signal-caller seems to warrant a 50-50 approach, with the team running and throwing equally.
Freshman Seth Shuman’s appearance in last week’s win over New Mexico State saw the team run a third type of scheme, one in which Shuman employs lots of handoffs and play action from the gun.
If the two offensive coordinators can somehow cobble together this Frankenstein of an offense into something that doesn’t squander its momentum from drive-to-drive, the team may achieve some modicum of success this season.
Defensively, Summers has done very little to improve on last year’s unit, with the team ranking 46th in the country in yardage allowed compared to 21st last season.
The ranks in scoring are roughly the same (23.5 points per game allowed last year vs. 22.9 this year), but with a struggling offense it does not make that much of a difference.
Summers was touted as a defensive specialist coming in, its time the unit started acting like it is coached by one.
If the Eagles don’t find a way to pull this one out (or even look competitive for that matter), it can take its ball and go home. Troy and App won’t wait around for Southern to improve.
Appalachian State Outlook
App has been almost a mirror opposite to Georgia Southern this season, losing a close one at Tennessee to open the season before defeating conference opponents Georgia State, Lafayette, and Idaho with ease.
As much as it pains me to say, the Mountaineers defense looks really good on paper. The team ranks 19th in scoring defense, only allowing 19 points per game to opponents.
Running back Jalin Moore and quarterback Taylor Lamb lead this unit, which averages 25 points per game on offense.
The bad news for Southern is that it has only eclipsed 25+ points three times this season, one of those coming against Savannah State.
Moore currently runs at a clip of 110 yards per game, and Georgia Southern allows 157 yards per game to opposing rushers.
Lamb is completing 63 percent of his passes in 2016, but his 7-5 touchdown to interception ratio leaves a bit to be desired.
This one could get ugly fast.
The Eagles have yet to establish any sort of identity offensively, and it is killing this team.
Playing a tough opponent and a rival gives me hope that this team will snap into focus and show up, but Gillespie and Dean have shown little, if any, signs of improvement in their play calling or scheming.
Summers hasn’t been much better on the other side of the ball, and this unit has actually been worse than it was last year.
If I was a betting man, I’d take those 5.5 points and run.
Final Score: Appalachian State 38, Georgia Southern 17.