It’s amazing that with so many connections to Georgia Tech, this upcoming matchup with Georgia Southern will be the first football meeting in history. They are 2 of just 7 Division-I football programs residing in the state of Georgia but they will become the fourth from the state to join the ranks of the Football Bowl Subdivision this fall, following Georgia State’s lead last season.
A lot of the focus will be on coach Paul Johnson, as Georgia Southern was the first of his head coaching stops. After many years as a coordinator, CPJ landed his first head coaching gig in 1997 at Georgia Southern. In just four seasons on the job, he brought two FCS National Championships to Statesboro.
The Eagles finished a relatively disappointing 7-4 (4-4) last season, but the high point of the season was kicking off their extended FBS celebration by knocking off a listless Florida team, without even completing a single pass.
Overall, while in the FCS, the Eagles were one of the most successful programs, winning 6 National Championships and 10 conference titles in the Southern Conference over the past 3 decades, all while compiling a .647 winning percentage. Now they look to hit the ground running in joining the Sun Belt for the 2014 season.
We know about the triple option/spread option attack CPJ brought to fruition in Statesboro. They have continued to be extremely successful running the ball since his departure. To no one's surprise, GSU led the FCS in rushing yards per game.
Jerick McKinnon played everywhere for the Eagles last season, including quarterback, A back and B back. He amassed over 1000 yards rushing in 10 games last season at an average of 6.5 per rush. His accolades in college, as well as running a 4.37 40 time and a running back leading 32 bench reps in the NFL Combine, helped make him a 3rd round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.
Unfortunately for the blue and white faithful, GSU will have a very tough time trying to replace his production. Sophomore Kevin Ellison will take over full control of the Eagle offense after splitting playing time with McKinnon as a freshman last season. He had 756 yards on almost 10 yards per pass attempt and 2 TDs and showed a quick understanding of the option offense at multiple positions.
The offense will have 8 returning starters, including four on their offensive front. Their offensive line will be led by preseason Sun Belt all-conference second team senior tackle Garrett Frye, who earned the same honor a year earlier.
The defense returns 8 players from last year’s team. Among those was preseason Sun Belt all-conference honors Edwin Jackson. Jackson, the Eagles’ leading tackler last season, is a senior inside linebacker from the Atlanta area.
Johnathan Battle leads the charge up front for the GSU defensive line. He ranked first in sacks and third in tackles on the team last year as a 6’1" 292 lb. defensive tackle. Defensive end Lennie Richardson will be a featured edge rusher in the Eagle’s scheme and Deion Stanley is a standout in the secondary as the team’s free safety, leading the team in interceptions in 2013.
The defense was in the top third of FCS teams in 2013-14, but they are rumored to be tinkering with a base 4-2-5 alignment, straying from the 4-3 they ran for seasons. We will soon see if they have all the wrinkles ironed out of this transition.
Special Teams & Coaching
Brandon Thomas was named a preseason fourth team all-conference player as a punt returner. He also doubles as a wide receiver, but the main focus will be stopping him in the return game.
With the move up to FBS, Willie Fritz was brought in as the Eagles's head coach. It was a lateral move from Sam Houston State, where he was a dazzling 40-15 over the past 4 seasons.
Fritz replaces Jeff Monken, who took a spot this offseason as the head coach of Army's football program. You may remember Monken as Paul Johnson's running back coach at Georgia Southern, Navy, and, for one season, at Georgia Tech. Monken brought three straight 10 win seasons to Statesboro from 2011-2013.
Fritz also brings with him Sam Houston State offensive coordinator Doug Ruse. Ruse, who will also be the running backs coach, led the Bearkats to a second consecutive season topping the 40 points per game mark.
Other Notes & Final Remarks
The game on Sept. 13 will be part of Family Weekend so make sure to bring your parents, siblings, aunts, uncles and children to take in a historic matchup. It will be a family friendly noon kickoff and there’s sure to be warm weather in Midtown.
I don't expect this to be a competitive game. Despite being one of the most successful FCS teams over the past generation, GSU doesn't have nearly enough next level talent to compete with Georgia Tech. There are a lot of JuCo transfers on this team, so it may be more experienced than it seems at first glance, but it takes time to assimilate players into this kind of option scheme.
In a battle of option offenses, one team has the clear edge in talent and continuity. The other will take their lumps as they transition to a higher level of competition.
How about we give the Eagles a warm FBS welcome with a Yellow Jacket beatdown?