Georgia Southern Faces Its Biggest Test Yet At Delaware
The expansion of the playoffs to 20 teams, with 10 at-large berths, instead of eight has given teams like Georgia Southern to leave their mark on the 2010 FCS postseason
By Sam Partridge
College Sporting News
Georgia Southern was on the ropes in the first half of an early November meeting with top-ranked Appalachian State.
Already saddled with four losses on the season, the Eagles fell behind 14-0 in the first quarter and the Mountaineers threatened to turn the game into a blowout.
But Georgia Southern stabilized on defense, created several turnovers and eventually came back to win 21-14 in overtime.
What a difference a shot of confidence has meant as the Eagles haven't lost since. GSU has won seven straight games entering Saturday's noon-time encounter with No. 3 seeded Delaware at Tubby Raymond Field in Newark, De.
Georgia Southern and Delaware took much different paths to the semifinals.
Similar to the defending champion Villanova Wildcats, the Eagles from Statesboro found themselves at a crossroads in early November sitting on four losses and facing a matchup with one of their biggest rivals.
In similar overtime fashion to Villanova's season-saving victory at Delaware, Coach Jeff Monken and his charges were able to knock off Appalachian State and keep their playoff hopes alive.
After another narrow escape against Furman, with a big fourth-quarter comeback in the season finale, the young Eagles found themselves in the playoffs for the first time since 2005.
It has not been a long time between playoff appearances for Georgia Southern, but it has been a painful stretch will an ill-advised firing of Mike Sewak followed by two disappointing head coach decisions.
However, the return of Monken an Eagle assistant during the Paul Johnson-coaching era has coincided with the return of Georgia Southern's traditional success.
Monken brought with him the iconic triple option attack that won the school six titles and that has resulted in a speedy renaissance in Statesboro.
With a young core, the Eagles weathered some early struggles, but have taken off since the ASU victory and looked especially impressive in their last two playoff victories over No. 2 seed William & Mary and SoCon co-champion Wofford, both on the road.
In those games, the triple option has been executed expertly by quarterback Jaybo Shaw and the Eagles offense has taken on the look of an unstoppable force at times.
However, on the other side of the field this Saturday, the unstoppable force will face the immoveable object.
Despite being picked to finish nowhere near the top of the CAA this year, the Delaware Blue Hens, led by coach K.C. Keeler, jumped out to a 5-0 start and have not looked back.
The Blue Hens have been arguably the most consistent team in FCS all year and their two losses came by a single point at William & Mary on a missed, last-minute field goal and on a fumble in overtime to Villanova.
Along the way, Delaware has been lead by a dominant defense and the steady hand of All-American Pat Devlin at quarterback.
Both were in evidence last Friday night as the Blue Hens overwhelmed New Hampshire, 16-3.
After falling behind 3-0, the Delaware defense controlled the potent Wildcat attack and Devlin and the offense took control, racking up a 10-minute time of poassession advantage and a large edge in total yardage.
While the Blue Hen defense limited UNH to less than four yards per play in the passing game, the Delaware offense maintained great balance with 31 runs and 38 passes.
That balance and ball control will be critical against a Georgia Southern that likes to play keep-away on this weekend.
It's hard to expect anything but a classic from these two teams on Saturday.
Both have faced high-quality competition all year, with the Blue Hens notably having played eight ranked teams to date.
No. 9 could present the toughest test as the triple option challenges a defense in unique ways, especially the secondary.
Also, the GSU defense has shown itself to be a stout group, led by All-American defensive tackle Brent Russell and a fearsome pass rush that completely overwhelmed another CAA team, co-champion William & Mary, two weeks ago.
The keys to this game will come down to a couple of matchups.
Can Delaware's secondary, so dominant against the pass, play solid assignment football and be as effective against the GSU ground game?
Also, can the Eagle pass rush pressure Devlin enough to keep Delaware from establishing an effective passing game.
There won't be a lot of surprises style-wise at Delaware Stadium.
It's going to be tough, physical December football.
The Delaware defense has bent a little more later in the season but with the help of the home crowd should still have enough to slow the Eagles down. Devlin and Co. will take advantage and pull out the win in a dogfight.
Fighting Blue Hens 23 Eagles 20