Start Time: 3:30 p.m. EST, Sept. 12
Location: Allen E. Paulson Stadium; Statesboro, GA
Weather: 85 degrees at kickoff, 58 percent chance of rain
Georgia Southern Preview
After an offseason that felt like it went on forever, and the very real prospect of having zero college football in 2020 being an outcome of the pandemic, the official season-opening contest is right around the corner.
Georgia Southern will open its season against an FCS opponent in Campbell, and the Eagles will look to start their season off on a high note and go 1-0 this week.
Offensively, a good number of starters return for Southern at some very key positions. Shai Werts will be taking control once again as the quarterback, coming off of a season in which he threw for 799 yards with 9 touchdowns and just one interception. Werts did a ton of damage with his legs last year as well, racking up 733 yards and 5 touchdowns on the ground.
Wesley Kennedy III will also once again line up as the Eagles’ most dynamic rushing option out of the backfield, as the Swiss Army Knife player for the Georgia Southern offense. Kennedy averaged a nice 6.9 yards per carry last season, and scored 11 rushing touchdowns with 824 yards on the ground.
Oh, and he did it all in just 9 games after missing the first four contests last year due to suspension, which means he averaged almost 100 yards per game on the ground. Kennedy’s do-it-all skill set will be relied upon heavily this year as the Eagles need more explosive plays than the team manufactured last season.
J.D. King also returns for the option team in blue, finishing 2019 as the Eagles’ second-leading rusher with 804 yards and 8 scores as a B-Back type out of the backfield with a punishing running style and being able to grind out the tough yards needed to set up Werts and Kennedy for long chunk plays.
Up front, Southern needs to make major strides in its blocking across the board. Many times last year the guys on the offensive line seemed out of position or unsure of what their roles were on given plays, leaving the three leading rushers mentioned above out to dry more times than any GS fan cares to see.
From a coordinator perspective, offensive leader Bob DeBesse must get more aggressive with his playcalling, especially on the opening drives of contests, than he has been in the two years he has been in Statesboro. Especially when you consider that his unit has gone his entire tenure without scoring an opening drive touchdown.
Someone on GSUFans crunched the numbers. In 26 games, we have gone 3-and-out on our first series 58 percent of the time.— Brian Stone (@WatchTheStone) December 23, 2019
We have not scored an opening drive TD under DeBesse's play calling to this point. pic.twitter.com/x9Ot09vuvX
Defensively, the Eagles sport a strong front-seven unit led by players such as Rashad Byrd, Reynard Ellis, Randy Wade, C.J. Wright and Raymond Johnson III. Those players should be able to control the running games of opposing teams while being effectively able to rush the passer in a committee approach as it deployed last year. Wade and fellow linebacker Dillon Springer tied for the team-high in sacks in 2019, each with 4.
For this defensive unit to take the next step, it needs to find pass rushers who can win more frequently up front and take some of the heat off of the inexperienced backline.
Speaking of the secondary, the losses of Monquavion Brinson and Kindle Vildor to graduation cannot be understated enough. Kendrick Duncan Jr. returns to provide some stability at the safety spot, but with the Eagles essentially starting over at cornerback, there is some cause for concern as dangerous pass offenses like Appalachian State and Troy loom down the road in 2020.
Campbell has a strange 2020 campaign ahead of them as an FCS team. With the majority of their schedule being cancelled due to the pandemic, the Camels will play four games this season with three coming against Sun Belt opponents in Georgia Southern, Coastal Carolina and Appalachian State before their season finale on October 9 against Wake Forest.
Hajj-Malik Williams pretty much did it all as the quarterback last season for Campbell, while leading an offense that averaged nearly 30 points per game. Williams led his team through the air, having tossed 17 touchdowns and 9 picks with the Camels and leading the team to a mark of 6-5 last year.
Williams was also the leading rusher for his team, toting the rock 151 times for 664 yards and 9 touchdowns. Unless the Camels have locked down another potent rushing threat this offseason, stopping Williams will be priority number one for opposing defenses this year.
Wide receiver Caleb Snead returns for the Camels to pair with Williams, having pulled down 30 passes for 562 yards and 6 touchdowns last year. Snead’s size could prove to be a problem for a Southern secondary that struggles with big receivers, as the flanker measures in at 6’4 and 215 pounds.
Defensively, Campbell will need to shore up its run defense from last year to compete with Southern, as the Camels surrendered an average of 235 yards per game to opposing offenses last year.
I think Georgia Southern takes advantage of Campbell’s lack of run defense it displayed last year, and the Camels score late to make the final score seem closer than the game actually was.
Final score: Georgia Southern 38, Campbell 20