Fans were treated to a vintage Georgia Southern Eagles game Saturday night: Tons of rushing yards in an easy 48-31 win over New Mexico State, and almost no reason to watch beyond the third quarter.
It’s a good thing too, because in just five days it’s time for the game of the year against the dreaded Appalachian State Mountaineers.
Georgia Southern is bowl eligible at 6-1 (3-0 Sun Belt), so we’ll get to see the Eagles play during the holidays for the first time in three years. At the beginning of the season going bowling looked like a major goal (my preseason prediction was 6-6). Instead it became a foregone conclusion weeks ago thanks to a monumental improvement in form under head coach Chad Lunsford.
Let’s say it once and for all: College football is about the men on the sidelines. Now, let’s elbow drop a metal chair in celebration.
EAGLES WIN— #GATALifestyle (@GATALifestyle) October 21, 2018
‼️BOWL ELIGIBLE‼️ pic.twitter.com/6SiOTurdYB
Anyway, back to tonight’s game. New Mexico State (2-6) is no longer in the Sun Belt after basically being kicked out a few years back, leading to this awkward affair (GS plays NMSU at home in 2019 before finally finishing with the Las Cruces bunch).
As if seeking revenge for the conference snub, the Aggies jumped out to a quick 14-3 lead that had Eagle Nation terrified early on. NMSU went right at the Eagles’ vaunted secondary and cut straight through it at first, earning 141 yards on its first two drives alone. Southern had only allowed three first-quarter points all season coming into the game.
The start was eerily similar to the 2014 matchup between these teams, when the Aggies got to 14-0 before the Eagles churned out a relatively comfortable win.
This time around, Southern got a field goal on its first drive, then put the game away by scoring touchdowns on six possessions in a row. Wesley Kennedy, Shai Werts, Logan Wright and Monteo Garrett all featured in the scoring fest that turned an early deficit into a blowout.
Check out Werts’ halftime numbers:
Shai Werts is 3-3 passing for 58 yards, with 70 yards rushing and a touchdown on just 6 carries (or 11.7 yards per rush). Remember when people didn't want him to start? #HailSouthern— Haisten Willis (@HaistenWillis) October 20, 2018
He was relatively quiet in the second half as the backfield trio took the stage. In total, the Eagles picked up 389 ground yards, plus a respectable 77 yards through the air on 4-4 passing. When the stat sheet looks like that it’s hard to lose.
The defense did its part too, coming up with three turnovers and, after giving up 17 early, keeping the Aggies off the board until a couple of scores in what was basically garbage time. The final score makes the game look closer than it really was, and the final score isn’t very close.
Shoutout to Kindle Vildor for the interception, and to CJ Wright and Quan Griffin for the fumble recoveries. Georgia Southern is an incredible +14 in turnover margin this season.
The big question now on everyone’s minds: Do we have enough to beat App State next week?
The answer to that question is unequivocally yes, IF all goes well. Do not forget that GS defensive coordinator Scot Sloan spent the last eight seasons at App. He should know the Mountaineer offense better than almost anyone. Getting another turnover or two, or maybe three, will be absolutely key. Playing at home rather than a few thousand feet above sea level in Appalachia doesn’t hurt either.
Sloan’s defense is the embodiment of the “bend but don’t break” mantra. New Mexico State gained 443 yards tonight, just shy of Georgia Southern’s 466, but the Eagles gave up 17 less points. That formula will be strongly tested next week.
App State beat Louisiana today to reach 5-1, and I have to admit I was pulling for them just because it makes next week’s game that much bigger. Thursday night is gonna be fun, y’all.
Another legitimate question following tonight’s Georgia Southern game is whether redshirt freshman running back Logan Wright should take over as the starter. He filled in for the injured Wesley Fields and played lights out with 136 yards and two scores on 17 carries. Maybe it doesn’t matter who starts. No doubt Fields is a fantastic back, and so are Kennedy and Garrett, so there’s isn’t exactly a bad option (no pun intended).
Let’s get the Eagles back to Statesboro safely and make the most of what’s going to be a very short week before they take on the Mountain Men. No matter what, it’s safe to say at this point that Georgia Southern is back.