Georgia Southern enters Saturday’s match-up against Louisiana Monroe with high hopes of extending their early lead in the Sun Belt Conference.
The Eagles took control of the conference with a 24-9 win over South Alabama last Saturday. Favian Upshaw was dominant that day with 127 passing yards and 133 rushing yards.
The Eagles defense yielded plenty of yards to South Alabama but never allowed them to enter the end zone on three scoring drives. Instead, they forced only field goal attempts which kept the game from being close.
Louisiana Monroe on the other hand is hoping to pull of a major conference upset after being demolished in a 59-17 loss to Oklahoma.
Both programs have new head coaches, but those two coaches inherit vastly different programs. Tyson Summers takes over a Georgia Southern team that has won nine games in each of their last two seasons.
Matt Viator, however, takes over a team which finished last the Sun belt in 2015 and have been moving backwards since winning eight games in 2012. They won six games in 2013, four in 2014, and two in 2015.
The Eagles are 4-2 against the Warhawks all-time and 2-0 since jumping to the FBS and joining the Sun belt in 2014.
GS offense vs. ULM defense
Normally, you know what you’re going to get with Georgia Southern’s offense. A heavy option-based attack with very little emphasis or worry on the passing game.
This year however, new offensive coordinators Rance Gillespie and David Dean have worked to make the Eagles passing game more effective while still being an option offense.
So far this year, the Eagles have 322 passing yards with two touchdowns, and they’ve completed 76 percent of their passes. They only had 824 yards and four touchdowns in all of 2015. They also only completed 43 percent of their passes and threw 10 interceptions.
Upshaw continues his accent as the Eagles quarterback; he currently has 242 passing yards with two touchdowns. He had 227 passing yards, zero touchdown passes and five interceptions in all of 2015 as Kevin Ellison’s backup.
With him on the field, they tend to balance him more between the option and the passing game than Ellison, who has only thrown six passes this year. All six of his attempts have been completed however.
They’re both neck-and-neck in the running game, Upshaw leads the team with 161 yards and two touchdowns, while Ellison has 143 yards with two touchdowns.
Five different rushers have surpassed 100 yards on the season so far for Georgia Southern. Wesley Fields has 133 yards, Demarcus Godfrey has 124 yards, and Matt Breida has 122 yards.
The Eagles still disproportionately favor the run, but they are now able to mix in a passing game to throw defenses off.
So far, the defense has not been pretty for Louisiana Monroe, surrendering 80 points in only two games. Although one of those games came against No. 14 Oklahoma.
It’s difficult to gauge how bad their defense really is since they haven’t played a team on their level yet. But they did allow FCS opponent Southern to score 21 points the first week of the season.
They lost seven defensive starters this off-season, and while most players taking over saw plenty of playing time, they’re making a switch from the 3-3-5 defense to the 4-2-5.
There’s just too much change on the defense for them to have any cohesion, and that’s what you absolutely need on defense if you want to have any chance of stopping an option attack like Georgia Southern’s.
GS Defense vs. ULM Offense
Last week Georgia Southern’s defense defined “bend but don’t break”, with all three of South Alabama’s scoring drives ended with field goals. That preserved a 24-9 win instead of the game being a much closer 24-21.
The Eagles young group of defensive backs were their weakness last Saturday. Dallas Davis passed for 279 yards. But their front seven stuffed the Jaguars running game, holding five rushers to a combined 90 yards.
That’s where the Eagles were able to shutdown drives to keep South Alabama out of the end zone.
They might not have a quarterback like Dallas Davis, but sophomore Garrett Smith did have a very respectable 251 yards and two touchdowns against the Sooners.
As a freshman Smith had 2033 yards, 17 touchdowns and 11 interceptions, and he missed Louisiana Monroe’s last three games. After a very good game against a Power Five opponent, Smith will be ready for Sun Belt play.
Smith also rushed for 150 yards against Southern two weeks ago.
But their running game didn’t perform as well. Oklahoma held them to 78 total yards. As a unit they weren’t all that great last year either, but they have a big (all above 6’3, 298 lbs) experienced (69 combined starts coming into 2016) offensive line this year.
Ben Luckett has proven to be their most trustworthy running back so far with 110 yards against Southern, but we are yet to see that running game play inside the Sun Belt conference. It was really good against an FCS team but stagnant against Oklahoma.
If this sounds a lot like the Georgia Southern versus South Alabama match-up, that’s because it is. Louisiana Monroe is another pass-happy team that struggles to get their run game to produce.
Smith should have some success against Georgia Southern’s defensive backs, and he has a good enough offensive line to keep himself vertical all game. However, the Eagles run defense might prove to be the best in the conference this year.
The difference between those two match-ups is that South Alabama is a better team than Louisiana Monroe defensively. The Eagle offense will impose themselves on a a defense that is transitioning in both personnel and scheme.
The option is hard enough to stop, add Upshaw’s passing game and there just doesn’t seem to be a way that the Warhawks can stop the Eagles this Saturday.
Location: Allen E. Paulson Stadium, Statesboro, Ga
Time 6:00 pm ET
TV: ESPN 3