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Week 7 Preview: Georgia Southern Eagles

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The Jackets look to get back in the win column when they take on in-state opponent Georgia Southern on Saturday.

NCAA Football: Georgia Tech at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Georgia Southern Season So Far

After starting the season with a trio of wins, Southern has dropped a couple of games in a row. The first of those two losses was quite respectable, as they fell to #24 Western Michigan, however the Eagles faltered last week, losing by one to previously winless Arkansas State. What makes the result even more painful for GSU fans is that they were able to force five turnovers, but allowed Arkansas State to rack up 525 yards.

This season, QBs Favian Upshaw and Kevin Ellison have split time running the Eagles offense, although Upshaw played just one snap against Arkansas State due to a hip injury. Southern currently sits in 4th place in the Sun Belt conference.

Offseason Preview (link)

Who’s gone? HC Willie Fritz, LG Darien Foreman, LB Antwione Williams, DBs Matt Dobson, Antonio Glover, & Darrius White.

Who’s back? QB Kevin Ellison, HB Matt Breida, DE Bernard Dawson, LB Ironhead Gallon.

Who’s new? HC Tyson Summers, DLs Darius Roper & Deshon Cooper, LB Ukeme Eligwe, CB Monquavion Brinson.

For the second time in three weeks, the Jackets will be facing a team with a new head coach. However, unlike Mark Richt, Tyson Summers is in his first season as a head coach, coming from UCF and Utah, where he was the defensive coordinator. The losses of Darien Foreman and Antonio Glover are big blows as both players made the first team All-Sun Belt team last year. Returning HB Matt Breida is one of the most underrated running backs in the country and ran for 111 yards and 2 TDs against the Jackets in 2014.

Matchup Preview

Despite being just three hours away, these two teams didn’t play for the first time until 2014, in large part because Southern was an FCS program before then. Additionally, because of World War II, the Eagles shut down their football program in 1941 and did not bring it back until 1981. As the first game between these two programs, the 2014 game sure did not disappoint. After trailing 35-10 at halftime, Southern stormed back in the second half, eventually taking a 38-35 lead and stunning the Tech players and fans. With just 23 seconds left in the game, Justin Thomas found Deon Hill for a 13 yard TD that would end up being the winner. Georgia Tech’s 42-38 victory ended up being a critical win on the road to their orange bowl championship.

This game will surely be a battle of ground game versus ground game, with both teams featuring run-heavy offenses. A movement from the running game to the passing game may be one of the reasons for the Eagles recent struggles. After totaling over 1,000 yards rushing through their first three games, Southern has just 364 rushing yards over their last two. Despite leading for the majority of the game against Arkansas State, the Eagles attempted 23 passes, their highest total for the season. Even factoring in the last two weeks, the Eagles still have the nation’s #6 rushing attack, and the Jackets should be expecting a heavy dose of the ground game on Saturday.

Tech fans will probably be rejoicing to see the run heavy Eagles, meaning they don’t have to watch another QB beat the Jackets through dink and dunk passing. Ted Roof’s defensive philosophy has always been ‘bend but don’t break’ and this season the defense has seemingly been in constant bending mode. Last Saturday, Pittsburgh scored on seven out of nine possessions and if Southern is able to do the same, frustration with the defense will only increase. Although the defense as a whole has struggled this year, it has certainly been better against the run than the pass and Georgia Southern offers a good opportunity for the defense to show signs of improvement.

Because the Eagles played last Wednesday, they were hoping the extra few days would help them to prepare for the Jacket’s option offense. Unfortunately for Southern, Hurricane Matthew cost them some of that extra practice time they were hoping for.

Paul Johnson started his head coaching career at Georgia Southern, where he coached for five years, winning two FCS national championships. Tech’s offensive line coach Mike Sewak replaced Johnson at Southern, where he remained head coach until 2005.

Vegas Line

GaTech -10.5

Prediction

After being Vegas underdogs for the last three weeks, Tech finally returns to being the favorite. Although it can be easy to overreact to the three straight losses, Tech fans need to keep in mind they have played three strong opponents, including a very real national championship contender, and two others that will almost certainly make a bowl game and be in the mix for a top 25 ranking at the end of the year. Georgia Southern has had their own struggles the past couple weeks. Additionally, the Sun Belt conference is frankly of a lower caliber than the ACC, but Tech still needs to be careful not to overlook the Eagles (see 2014). The Tech offense should be able to move the ball pretty well and this one will come down to whether the defense can get stops. Jackets win 35-21.

Weekly Press Conference