It’s tough to say that Georgia Southern is one of the better Group of Five teams right now. A weak early schedule limits the extent to which this team can be evaluated. However, when considering the numbers and how this team is playing, it can’t be ignored: The Eagles are one of the better teams not only in the Sun Belt Conference, but among the G-5 conferences.
Granted, beating FCS member Savannah State 54-0 is not that impressive. On the other hand, going on the road and dominating South Alabama – a team coming off the high of beating an SEC team (Mississippi State) on the road – does show that the Eagles have a lot going for them.
Georgia Southern looks like a team that is hitting its stride in mid-season, even though it is only September 15.
New head coach Tyson Summers is keeping the run-heavy option offense Willie Fritz had for the last three years, but the Eagles are adding a passing attack that is making this offense even more potent.
Running back Matt Breida was one of the leading rushers in the country, but he hasn’t had a 100-yard game yet this season. Against South Alabama, Breida had only 54 yards on 17 carries. Maybe his numbers are so low because opposing defenses are keying on him to keep him in check, but he still has good breakaway speed that labels him a game breaker.
What also possibly keeps Breida’s numbers down is a diverse run attack in which almost everyone can break a big run. Wesley Fields has become a strong backup to Breida as well as L.A. Ramsby. Against USA, Fields and Rambsy combined for 58 yards and two touchdowns, one apiece in the 24-9 win.
Quarterback Favian Upshaw shares the position with Kevin Ellison, and both players run the option very well. This year, Upshaw has developed a passing game that has added a spark beyond the running game. Upshaw ran for 108 yards last week while going 6-for-9 for 127 yards passing.
One reason for the passing game’s rebirth is the return of receiver B.J. Johnson III, who was lost for a good part of the 2015 season with a broken clavicle against Idaho. So far this year, he has four catches for 70 yards.
Ellison hasn’t thrown the ball a lot (only 6-for-6 for 80 yards this season), but he is at 146 yards rushing and two touchdowns for the season. Another senior, Montay Crockett, is also stepping up, leading the team in receptions with five for 115 yards and a touchdown.
While the offense evolves, the beat goes on for the Georgia Southern defense. The Eagles have given up only the three field goals against South Alabama, and are the only team in Division I that hasn’t allowed a touchdown so far this season.
Led by defensive tackle Jay Ellison and linebacker Ironhead Gallon, the Eagles have given up a combined 107 rushing yards, including only 73 against South Alabama.
The schedule will continue to be light for Georgia Southern. It hosts a young and inexperienced Louisiana-Monroe squad this Saturday, meaning another win should come. The Eagles have a big test coming next week when they travel to Western Michigan, the early favorite in the MAC and a team that is third in the pecking order of best Group of Five teams so far this season, Houston and Boise State notwithstanding.
If the Eagles can go to Kalamazoo and get that win as well, then you can officially say Southern is for real.