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Despite loss, Georgia Southern is still a Sun Belt contender

Scott Donaldson/Icon Sportswire

While it is fair to say that Georgia Southern made a lot of mistakes on offense and its defense did not show up until very late in its most recent game, nobody should think the Eagles are a bad football team.

Despite a tough 49-31 loss at Western Michigan, arguably one of the better teams in the Group of Five conferences, Georgia Southern is 2-1 and still has a strong path to a Sun Belt title. However, the Eagles need to clean up a number of deficiencies going forward.

For the first time all year, Georgia Southern’s rushing attack was held in check, while its defense could not find an answer for a Western Michigan passing game that produced 270 yards.

Also, the Eagles committed four turnovers in the game, including a 70-yard interception return for a touchdown by WMU’s Darius Phillips. Special teams breakdowns led to a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Phillips. Two big plays from one man made the difference for the Broncos as they avenged a 43-17 loss to Southern last season.

Yet, the loss doesn’t put Georgia Southern out of the mix of a lot of things, including the Sun Belt title and a possible – but remote – chance at a New Year’s Six bowl.

The loss shows that the Eagles’ vaunted running game – which was as high-powered an offense as one can imagine — has been slowed down this year. Running back Matt Breida, who was one of the country’s leading rushers this year, has been slowed down a lot, thanks to thorough scouting from defenses and — counterintuitively — the diversity of the Eagle rushing attack.

Against Western Michigan, Breida had only 42 yards on 14 carries, good for only three yards per carry. Last year, he averaged 123.7 yards on 15.6 carries per game, so Breida is off from where he was a year ago. That could change, since he will be facing not-as-tough defenses as the season progresses.

It also has to be said that Georgia Southern is getting great rushing output from quarterbacks Favian Upshaw and Kevin Ellison. Both signal-callers get an equal amount of playing time, and both have been strong as rushers. Against the Broncos, Upshaw and Ellison combined for 84 yards on 22 carries. Also having a good season is backup running back L.A. Ramsby, who had a 42-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter to cut WMU’s lead to 11. Production from these sources has cut into Breida’s touches and yardage.

The passing game, on the other hand, is a hit-or-miss proposition for the Eagles, who have seen it flourish, but have also witnessed its drawbacks. Upshaw was 4-for-6 for 103 yards and two touchdowns against WMU, but his pick-six put the game out of reach for Georgia Southern.

Meanwhile, the defense had played well the first two games of the season, but Georgia Southern has given up over 270 passing yards the last two games, including 270 yards and four passing touchdowns to WMU.

Head coach Tyson Summers said he liked the fight his team showed in the fourth quarter, but the turnover-prone Eagles dug too big a hole to escape. The good news is that Georgia Southern will have over a week to work things out before beginning Sun Belt Conference play on the first Tuesday in October.

The Eagles will face Arkansas State, a team many thought would contend for the SBC title, but has started the season 0-4, including a shocking loss to an in-state FCS team, Central Arkansas.

Georgia Southern is still the team to beat in the Sun Belt due to its offensive weapons. Its defense needs work on defending the pass, and the offense has to cut down on turnovers. If those adjustments can be made, the Eagles can still become the dominant team in the SBC.

Despite loss, Georgia Southern is still a Sun Belt contender

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