November 21, 2013

Game Week: Georgia Southern Breakdown



In the midst of a five-game losing streak, the Gator Nation should find reason to smile this weekend as Florida takes on Georgia Southern Saturday afternoon in the Swamp. Inside the Gators has the very latest on the match-up in this Game Week Breakdown. Guerry Smith breaks down Georgia Southern with his answers to five burning questions as well previewing five Eagles players Gator fans should keep an eye on this weekend.

BURNING QUESTIONS: Guerry Smith provides answers to these
five burning questions
1) What has to happen for Georgia Southern to pull an unthinkable shocker?

The Eagles will have to run the ball down the Gators' throats because that's all they do under Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson disciple Jeff Monken. Georgia Southern averages 360.4 rushing yards and 103,3 passing yards, throwing only 86 times in 10 games and completing 47, fewer than five per contest. That doesn't mean the quarterbacks are bystanders, though. Senior Jerick McKinnon has a team-high 908 yards on 148 carries with 10 rushing touchdowns, but he was unavailable last Saturday with an ankle injury and is questionable for the Gator game. The other quarterback Georgia Southern uses, Kevin Ellison, is second on the team with 673 rushing yards. Ellison threw two touchdown passes against Samford and none against any other team. No running back gained as many as 400 yards. If Florida controls the line of scrimmage defensively, this one will be over early.

2) Is Florida lucky to be catching Georgia Southern this year?

Yes. On the verge of their first losing season since 1979, the Gators might be flatter than offensive coordinator Brent Pease's playbook for Skyler Mornhinweg this Saturday. The Swamp certainly will be dead, with fans still trying to stomach Florida's 4-6 record and plenty of empty seats a virtual certainty. But this is easily the worst Georgia Southern team of Monken's four-year tenure. The Eagles reached the FCS semifinals in each of his first three seasons, restoring the luster to a program that won six national championships from 1985 to 2000 but slipped dramatically in the decade that followed. They finished 4-4 in the Southern Conference this year and will not make the playoffs. Florida represents their bowl game, but with a 38-14 loss to Appalachian State (which went 3-8) and 10-point losses to Wofford and Samford, this team does not appear equipped to pull the upset.

3) Why has Georgia Southern slipped this year?

The Eagles have played from behind too much, something they are ill-equipped to do with their simplistic passing game. Wofford never trailed it its win against Georgia Southern. They trailed Appalachian State 17-7 at the half. They trailed Furman 13-7 at the half. The triple-option offense works very well when a team takes an early lead, allowing it to chew time off the clock and throw only as a change of pace to catch an opponent off guard. Georgia Southern rushed for 345 yards against Western Carolina, taking a 7-0 lead in the first minute and leading all the way. The Eagles rushed for 398 yards against Elon, going ahead 17-6 at the half and pulling away from there. The only problem is those teams combined for only four wins, so Georgia Southern's modest two-game winning streak means little.

4) Can Georgia Southern stop Florida's 111th ranked offense like everyone else?

Probably not, but this will be a good litmus test of how low the Gators can go. Georgia Southern allows an average of 352.3 yards, which isn't terrible, but run defense has been an issue. Three consecutive opponents early in the year rushed for 200 yards or more, and if the Gators can move the ball on the ground, Mornhinweg won't have to make many plays. Samford threw for 495 yards against Georgia Southern, but that game was an outlier. No one else threw for 250 yards.

5) What's the best thing about Georgia Southern?

The game will go fast. With the Eagles running on virtually every down regardless of the score (their season high for passing attempts was 17 and the low was two in a 23-21 win against Southern Conference champion Chattanooga), the clock keeps running. The Chattanooga game lasted 2:34, and three others were under 2:50. Only the opener against Savannah State, which Georgia Southern won 77-9, and the shootout 44-34 loss to Sanford (3:20) were the length of a normal FBS game.

FIVE TO KEEP AN EYE ON: Here's a list of five Eagles players Gator fans will want to keep an eye on
1) Kevin Ellison, a 6-foot-0, 183-pound redshirt freshman quarterback
Smith Says: Ellison had a career-best 163 rushing yards and threw for 104 yards last Saturday against Elon, earning Southern Conference Offensive Player of the Week honors.
2) Nardo Govan, a 6-foot-2, 244-pound sophomore fullback
Smith Says: The Eagles have been as ravaged by injuries as the Gators. Govan, who played sparingly in the first half of the year, had 11 carries for 86 yards against Elon. Assuming McKinnon is unavailable, Govan will be the No. 2 option.
3) Kyle Oehlbeck, a 5-foot-10, 210-pound senior linebacker
Smith Says: Oehlbeck, a Gainesville native who played for Buchholz High, is second on the team in tackles and leads the squad with 7 tackles for loss. He plays hard.
4) Jerick McKinnon, a 5-foot-9, 215-pound senior quarterback
Smith Says: He was out inured last week, and may not play against Florida, but you try coming up with five players to watch from this team. McKinnon, who practiced Wednesday and looked gimpy according to Monken, has 3,774 rushing yards in his career.
5) Deion Stanley, a 5-foot-10, 197-pound junior safety
Smith Says: Here is another player who was sidelined last week, and still may not be able to play on Saturday. He leads the Eagles with three interceptions.

1) Florida leads the series 2-0, beating Georgia Southern 38-14 in 1986 and 62-14 in 1996. The '86 contest was entertaining because the Eagles were defending 1-AA champions and would go on to win the title again, featuring dynamic running quarterback Tracy Ham. It rained during that season opener, and although the Gators won comfortably, they had some shaky moments, foreshadowing a three-game home losing streak against Miami, Alabama and LSU. Pardon the aside, but I remember it well because that was my freshman year. The Gators went 2-4 in the SEC but beat Auburn, Georgia and FSU in a bizarre 6-5 season that ended without a bowl game.
2) Georgia Southern has rushed for at least 259 yards in every game and has a run of 40 yards or longer in all but two contests. Furman and Samford were the only teams to hold the Eagles below 6.0 yards per carry, limiting them under 5.0 yards. The Eagles convert 53.4 percent of their third downs, which would rank third in the FBS behind LSU and Louisville.
3) Due to injuries, Georgia Southern dressed only 52 scholarship players, including 19 freshmen, for its trip to Elon. Considering Florida's massive injuries, there's a reason this game has been labeled the Banged Up Bowl.
4) Georgia Southern graduate assistant coach Jaybo Shaw is the older brother of South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw, who played against the Gators last week. Jaybo Shaw said he talked to his brother right after the game was over to get his opinion on who Florida's best defensive players were.
5) Georgia Southern has fumbled a whopping 26 times this year, a frequent problem for triple option teams because the quarterback has to pull the ball out at the last second and make dangerous pitches at times. The good news for the Eagles is they recovered 16 of them. Although Monken lamented turnovers as a year-long problem, Georgia Southern has only 13 turnovers in 10 games.

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