Sun Belt Preview: Georgia Southern vs. South Alabama

STATESBORO, GA - SEPTEMBER 3: Players from the Georgia Southern Eagles sing the alma mater after deating the Savannah State Tigers 54-0 on September 3, 2016 at Paulson Stadium in Statesboro, Georgia. (Photo by Todd Bennett/Getty Images)

Springing out of the first week of college football, two of the hottest teams in the Sun Belt square off immediately.

Georgia Southern dominated Savannah State 54-0 Saturday night, while South Alabama upset Mississippi State 21-20.

Georgia Southern’s offense

The Eagles had no issues running and even passing all over Savannah State. Seven players combined for 69 carries for 420 yards. Demarcus Godfrey led Georgia Southern with 14 carries for 124 yards. Favian Upshaw led them with two rushing touchdowns.

The passing game was very effective with Upshaw and Kevin Ellison combining for 185 yards in the air on 12-of-15 pass completions. Upshaw threw two touchdown passes but also added one interception.

We know Georgia Southern should run the ball very well. Matt Breida will have more carries against a more formidable opponent. Last season he had 1,608 yards and 17 touchdowns.

L.A. Ramsby may also be back this week. Ramsby had 816 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2015. Expect several more Eagles will carry the ball, however. Godrey and Wesley Fields will both spell Breida when needed and both are them are more than formidable backups. Quarterbacks Ellison and Upshaw will also keep the ball and pick up plenty of yards themselves.

The big question for Georgia Southern centers around passing the ball in critical situations. In 2015 they only completed 43.1 percent of their passes for 824 yards, four touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

After one game they have half as many touchdown passes in 2016 than they did in all of last year. Can they bring the same efficiency in the passing game they had against Savannah State to their game against South Alabama?

If Upshaw and Ellison pass the ball well enough to complement their strong and deep stable of backs, the Eagles should have no problem lighting up the scoreboard this Saturday.

South Alabama’s offense

The Jaguars offense was shut out in the first half by the Bulldogs defense. But they played great in the second half and scored 21 unanswered points to seal the upset in Starkville.

South Alabama relied heavily on the arm of Dallas Davis who produced 285 yards and two touchdowns. Most of his yards were accumulated by Josh Magee’s 113 yards on seven catches, and Gerald Everett’s 95 yards on eight catches. Both receivers had one touchdown.

They only ran the ball for 94 yards as a team, but Tyreis Thomas had 83 yards on only 10 carries.

Their running game was stuffed in the first half for only 24 yards. But their running game played much better when mixed with Davis’s passing. This is what sparked their second half comeback.

South Alabama’s running game is much like Georgia Southern’s passing game. It’s not what they rely on, but if they do it well enough they are near impossible to stop.

Georgia Southern’s defense

For several years the Eagles have had a great defense, and their performance against an over-matched team didn’t do anything to change that notion. They held Savannah State to 114 total yards of offense (80 passing yards and 34 rushing yards).

But they have four new starters in their defensive backfield and they are facing a drastically better passing attack this week. If they can’t cover Magee, Everett and Kevin Kutchera, the game might turn into a shootout.

Fortunately for the Eagles secondary, they have a good front seven that can generate a pass rush. That front seven is also good enough to contain Thomas and make South Alabama one dimensional.

South Alabama’s defense

They struggled by giving up 17 points in the first half, but they played much better in the second half against Mississippi State. However, the Bulldogs were without Dak Prescott, who was the center of their offense for four years, and were shuffling quarterbacks in a still undecided quarterback competition.

They aren’t facing an offense going through much of a transition this week. Same quarterback duo and the same stable of running backs.

In 2015 South Alabama was not a good team on defense. They gave up an average of 37.25 points per game and and 35.75 points against teams in the Sun Belt. Georgia Southern’s offense will be a good test for how good South Alabama’s defense will be this season.

Who’s Moving Forward in Sun Belt Play?

Georgia Southern has the defense to make South Alabama one dimensional. But South Alabama does not have the defense to do the same to Georgia Southern.

Offensively, the Eagles showed flashes of brilliance to the passing game last week, if they can keep that up, they shouldn’t have an problems scoring points this Saturday. Look for Georgia Southern to get a second win on the season and move to the top of the Sun Belt early in the season.


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