When last the Georgia Southern Eagles and Western Michigan Broncos met, PJ Fleck was seen as an up-and-coming coach who might really make something of his team.
In the end, GS was more than up to the challenge and ran (literally) to a 43-17 blowout. WMU went on to finish 8-5, missing the MAC title game and winning an obscure bowl.
This time around Fleck is finally living up to the promise his recruiting classes suggest. The Broncos rowed the boat to not one but two Big Ten wins, and now the G5 throwdown takes place in their house.
This time they want to row the boat right through Georgia Southern.
Start Time: 7 p.m. ET, Saturday, Sept. 24
Location: Waldo Stadium, Kalamazoo, Michigan
Records: Georgia Southern (3-0, 2-0 Sun Belt), Western Michigan (3-0, 0-0 MAC (2-0 Big Ten))
Weather: 70 degrees at kickoff. 1 percent chance of precipitation. 49 percent humidity. 6 mph winds
Betting Line: WMU -7. Over/Under of 54
Georgia Southern Outlook
Southern is 3-0, with two conference wins already to its credit. But it’s a shaky 3-0 and the natives are restless, especially following last week’s heart attack against ULM.
The Eagles outgained the Warhawks to 416 to 350, got 27 first downs to ULM’s 15 and held the ball for almost 38 minutes. GS even won the turnover battle 2 to 1. Yet there the visitors were, marching into the redzone down two points with the game clock running out.
It took a miracle sack from Chris DeLaRosa and a blocked field goal by RJ Murray to secure the victory.
All of Eagle Nation RN. pic.twitter.com/1lu6NiZwID— Haisten Willis (@HaistenWillis) September 18, 2016
Certain segments of the fanbase are already looking to bail on new head coach Tyson Summers. The Eagles did come into that ULM game favored by 25, after all.
Taking a more long-range approach, GS is still 3-0, and still rushing the ball quite well. Georgia Southern boasts 1,069 ground yards on the season, second only to Army, which is led by a former Georgia Southern coach.
And the defense has played lights out for the most part, allowing just 10 points per contest and ranking 26th nationally in total defense.
What’s the problem? One is penalties. The Eagles were hit with 14 for 130 yards last week. Even when Matt Breida, LA Ramsby and Co. get a reliable four or five yards per rush, that’s an iffy proposition at 1st and 15 or 2nd and 12.
The other — and more controversial — aspect is the continued flirtation with more passing. Favian Upshaw and Kevin Ellison went just five of 17 in the air last week, and only got 4.2 yards per completion on average.
That’s less than the average yards per rush (4.9). Conventional wisdom holds that you throw on third and long, but if your average completion goes for less than your average run, what to do?
Not to mention the occasional throws on first or second down. I understand the element of surprise, but sometimes it feels like you’re playing Canadian football with only three downs when 1st and 10 falls incomplete.
Here’s an assessment from SB Nation’s MAC blog, Hustle Belt:
Georgia Southern does not pass.
So there’s that. OK, I’m starting to sound like the pessimists.
Georgia Southern is 3-0, including a win over a team that had just beaten Mississippi State. If the penalties can be eased, which they certainly can, and the offense can finish off drives, which it certainly can, then the Eagles certainly can fly back from Michigan with a win.
Summers is showing he absolutely knows what he’s doing on defense, and while WMU did beat two Big Ten teams, Georgia Southern is better than those teams. There, I said it.
Western Michigan Outlook
This is looking like that magical season where the Broncos go undefeated or just short, get some national love, and then lose their coach to a bigger school.
Western Michigan beat both Power 5 teams on its schedule and after this week nothing but MAC games remain. Say it with me: “Undefeeded?”
Maybe, but this might be the best team they’ll face the entire season. Let’s not forget Southern ran away with a blowout victory last year.
Fleck’s squad is 3-0 for the first time since 1994, and will be looking for major revenge after getting torched for 413 yards in last season’s matchup.
Breida was absolutely on fire in that game, to the tune of four scores and 16 yards a carry. But WMU’s defense is no slouch either, allowing just 77.3 yards per game, 11th in all of the FBS.
Southern fans will desperately hope to not hear the name “Corey Davis” all night. He’s a senior receiver and perhaps the most deadly piece of the Western offense.
Zach Terrell is the quarterback and a powerful passer that will certainly test the Eagles’ young (though very talented) secondary. Sophomore Jamauri Bogan is the lead running back. He’s fifth in the FBS with 423 rushing yards, so it’s not like Southern can sell out to stop the pass.
Somewhat ironically, WMU’s passing defense is its worst unit, allowing 717 yards so far. Does that mean it’s time to continue the air experiment? I’m glad it’s not up to me.
I predict that if you go to Kalamazoo, and you visit the local Bell’s Brewery, and you drink a Two Hearted Ale, you will be glad you did.
The game? That’s a little harder.
The line opened with Western Michigan a four-point favorite. It’s since moved to WMU -7, meaning most of the action came in for the Broncos.
As a Southern fan, I’m nervous. It’s the same way I felt last year against this team (GS came in fresh off a 44-0 pounding at West Virginia) and the same way I felt going into the GoDaddy Bowl (we don’t need to mention the game preceding it).
Both of those went pretty well, so maybe we’re in for another surprise showing.