There’s a good reason Georgia Southern and Appalachian State are making the transition to FBS football from the lower-level FCS this season.
The Eagles and Mountaineers have made their mark on the Southern Conference and each has won multiple national titles – ASU won three in a row from 2005-07 and GSU won back-to-back crowns three different times.
Appy State even shocked the world by beating Michigan, 34-32, in September 2007. In the Big House. One of the greatest upsets in college football history.
It's time for new challenges.
Georgia Southern and UT-Chattanooga square off Saturday in Statesboro, Ga., for the last time as SoCon opponents and the Mocs know exactly what awaits them at Paulson Stadium – a tough night. The Mocs (2-1) play Appy State on Nov. 2 in Boone, N.C.
UTC is 1-12 against the Eagles in Statesboro with the Mocs’ only win a one-point decision in 2007.
Coach Russ Huesman, 25-22 in five seasons at UTC, is 5-12 against ranked FCS opponents and 1-3 versus Georgia Southern. That win came at Finley Stadium in 2010. The Eagles returned the favor in 2012 with a 39-31 win over the Mocs in triple overtime.
Huesman said Tuesday at his weekly press conference that a bye week could help the Mocs to better prepare for the challenge of facing Georgia Southern’s vaunted triple-option offense.
“We had an opportunity to spend three days last week going as fast as we could go,” he said. “Sometimes in a (regular) game week you can’t do that. We made the decision to cut-block full speed, come off the ball full speed and double-team people.”
The extra time also gave the Mocs’ scout team the chance to give the defense a better look at the Eagles’ offense.
“You’ll never come close to simulating the speed, but it usually takes the scout team two days just to figure out the motions, blocking, the offensive line coming off the ball,” Huesman said. “You can spend the whole first practice making sure the scout team is going in the right direction.”
Georgia Southern, as usual, has the option game down pat.
While not eligible for the conference title, the Eagle show up vividly in offensive rankings this week and they’re ranked high in several defensive categories as well.
GSU (2-1) is No. 1 in scoring offense with 52.0 points per game. It is No. 1 in total offense at 542.7 yards per game. It is No. 1 in rushing offense with 407.7 yards per game. Versatile Jerick McKinnon leads the Eagles in rushing with 243 yards on 34 carries, a 7.1-yard average per rush.
How good is that ground assault? Mighty second-ranked Oregon has the nation’s No. 2 FBS rushing offense with 355.3 yards a game and Navy leads the landlubbers with 398.0. In FCS statistics, the Eagles’ rushing attack would lead by 79.7 yards a game over Portland State.
That’s how good.
UTC senior cornerback Chaz Moore, a senior from Memphis and three-year letterman, has been down this road before, and he’s eager to play the Eagles.
“I live for games like this,” said Moore, who ranks second on the Mocs’ defense with 17 tackles that include 1.5 tackles for loss and has broken up two passes.
Moore, a fill-in for the scheduled defensive player, Wes Dothard, said he’s seen the triple option from Georgia Southern, Appalachian State and Wofford for three years and “knows what to expect.”
“You’ve got to be disciplined,” he said.
Moore was asked if one of the objectives of any defender going against the option is not to “get burned” on a play.
“You can’t think about that,” he said. “Just go play.”
UTC’s defense has been dominant in the league for several years, but this week the Mocs have no player listed among the top 20 tacklers.
Moore just shrugs that off.
“As long as everyone is making plays, the tackles will be spread out,” he said.
Seven Mocs have double-digit tackles through three games. Cornerback Kadeem Wise leads with 20, including 15 solos.
GSU opened the season with a 77-9 blowout win over Savannah State and followed that with a 59-17 rout of St. Francis (Pa.). On Sept. 14, Wofford beat the Eagles, 30-20, in the SoCon opener for both schools.
UTC lost to UT-Martin before beating lowly Georgia State and Austin Peay and taking a week off to prep for Georgia Southern.
The thing that makes Georgia Southern, which has claimed six national titles and finished runner-up twice, is the Eagles’ offense is complimented by a tenacious defense. GSU is ranked
Coach Jeff Monken’s squad is the league’s best in total defense (299.3) and pass efficiency defense (77.9). The Eagles are second in scoring defense (18.7) and that goes against UTC’s scoring offense (35.0), which ranks second in the conference.
The Mocs are No. 2 in rushing defense (145.0) and the Eagles are No. 3 at 174.3.
A combination of the Eagles’ time-consuming ground attack and a defense capable of routinely serving up three-and-outs, the Mocs have to be efficient offensively in Saturday’s 6 p.m. game.
“We have to make the most of every possession,” said quarterback Jacob Huesman, who ranks fourth in total offense with 222.0 yards per game.
The Mocs have lost five straight league openers – four under Huesman – and the last time they started off 1-0 was in 2007 by beating Georgia Southern, 45-38, in overtime in Statesboro.
“A win to start off would be huge,” Jacob Huesman said. “This is where it starts to grind. We played these guys to three overtimes last year and they went to the semifinals of the playoffs. We were this close to beating them.”
(E-mail Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org)