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GSU Eagles have closed out strong in all wins
There’s not much to complain about at Georgia Southern these days.
The Eagles are the No. 1 team in the Football Championship Subdivision and have been winning games by an average of more than four touchdowns a game while winning their first four games of the season.
GSU has been trailing exactly two minutes and 54 seconds this season.
But second-year coach Jeff Monken isn’t complacent and hopes to clean up any problems before getting to the meat of the schedule, and that starts Saturday against No. 23 Chattanooga.
“I think our guys are humble enough right now at this point that they (won’t) think every week they’ll line up and have a blowout,” Monken said. “There have been challenges all the way through. Our guys are just trying to get better right now. There are enough things we can point out to them on film. They see there are areas of improvement.”
The Eagles have had unsettling moments early on in every game this season, but used a surge to pull away.
GSU was tied with Samford at halftime in the season opener before going on a 24-3 run during a 15-minute period in the third and fourth quarters.
The next week, the Eagles allowed Tusculum to whittle a 21-0 lead to 21-14 before scoring five touchdowns in a 20-minute span of the third and fourth quarters.
In the third game, Western Carolina matched GSU’s opening touchdown with a nine-play, 80-yard scoring drive.
Last Saturday, Elon scored first — the only time the Eagles have trailed this season.
“It’s not something we think about, but what I’d like to say is, it’s more about the finish than the start,” GSU slotback Johnathan Bryant said. “Coach Monken will give us a motivational speech at halftime. I can’t tell you what he says. But it puts a flame under us and we go out and get after it a little more.”
While the Eagles’ statistics are excellent across the board, they’re slightly better in the second half. GSU holds a cumulative 44-point advantage over its opponents during the first half, but has outscored its foes by 70 in the second half.
The Eagles have scored their most points this season in the third quarter (56) and second most in the fourth (51).
They’ve outgained opponents in the second half in three of their four games. GSU had 179 offensive yards in both the first and second halves against Samford.
“I think the mentality of our team is we’re going to wear you down,” Eagles defensive end John Douglas said. “We made a goal to be in shape and be tough, and those things can come into play in the second half when things get hard.”
In the past, some may have thought differently about Georgia Southern and its triple-option offense. Because opponents have such a tough time simulating the offense in practice, the Eagles could jump out to big leads before defenses knew what hit them.
But the triple option isn’t as foreign to defensive coordinators any more, particularly in the Southern Conference where three teams run versions of the attack.
GSU, however, remains the leader of adjustments. Some times it takes only the tweak of the blocking schemes or a movement of the safety to make a big difference.
Monken points to changes made by offensive coordinator Brent Davis and defensive coordinator Jack Curtis. Good communication from the players helps the process.
“The easiest job is to come in on Sunday and say we should have done this,” Monken said. “The art (of coaching) is being able to recognize (problems). … That’s the chess match going on because the other side is doing the same thing.”
Another ability to have a strong kick at the end is having good depth and GSU boasts an abundance of playmakers on both sides of the ball.
Last season, after 15 games, seven GSU players scored two or more touchdowns. This year, after four games, the same number of Eagles have two or more.
GSU scored 41 points against Elon without slotback/quarterback Jerick McKinnon (out with a broken hand), who is second in the FCS averaging two touchdowns a game.
So the longer the game goes, the more likely an Eagle playmaker will step up.
“As long as there is that sense of urgency and there’s intensity and (the players) are playing with great effort, playing their assignments, you just have to play out the 60 minutes and hope you’ve done enough at the end to win,” Monken said. “You can get frustrated and lose sight that it’s a 60-minute game. It’s not a six-minute game.”
GSU’s second-half surge
Opponent|first half scoring|second half scoring|final score
By Donald Heath, Savannah Morning News