Game of the Week Preview
By BJ Bennett
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SouthernPigskin.com publisher B.J. Bennett previews the Southern Pigskin Game of the Week: Georgia Southern at Wofford.
Game: Georgia Southern at Wofford
Overview - These two FCS powers will play, at least in large part, for a Southern Conference championship. The homestanding Terriers would clinch the outright league crown with a win here and next week versus Chattanooga and can guarantee no worse than a share of the title with a victory Saturday; the visiting Eagles can claim the conference championship, slamming the door on Appalachian State and Furman, with a win. Wofford enters this pairing ranked 9th nationally, while Georgia Southern is the highest-ranked league team at 4th.
Why to Watch - The stakes, think seeding in the national playoffs, are as high as can be. This series has been as compelling as any in FCS football in recent years. Each of the last five meetings have been decided by a five points or less with four of those games being decided by three points or less. The Eagles and Terriers met twice last season, once in the postseason. Georgia Southern won once, Wofford won once and the total tally was 54-53 in favor of the Eagles. Georgia Southern's playoff win last year earned them a spot in the FCS semifinals. The Terriers have had revenge on their minds since.
Keys for Georgia Southern
1. Don't Let Breitenstein Beat You - The big fullback leads the Southern Conference by a wide margin with 1,139 yards rushing and 15 rushing touchdowns. He ripped Appalachian State for 173 yards on the ground earlier in the year. Breitenstein is the starting point for everything Wofford likes to do. His ability to draw defensive attention inside opens up big-play opportunities on the edge for Donovan Johnson, who is averaging 8.7 yards per rushing attempt. In a battle for possession of the football, Breitenstein will be the x-factor who determines how much of the rest of this game will fall into place. Should the Eagles find a way to slow him, the Terriers seem uncomfortable with a perimeter-based attack -- both running and throwing. They like for opportunities to make plays using the width of the field to come as the result of success running the football in the middle of it. Teams always look to take away their opponent's best weapon; Breitenstein is that and more for Wofford.
2. Sprint, Don't Stumble, Out of the Gate - One of the problems for Georgia Southern in their loss to Appalachian State was their stunningly-slow start. The Eagles found themselves down 17-3, on the road, at halftime. Adjustments made during the break forced the offense into small-but-significant schematic changes and put an incredible amount of pressure on the defense. Neither one of these teams are necessarily built to overcome large deficits. Who has the best opening quarter may very well set a game-long theme. A strong start will be especially important for the visiting team.
3. Find the Swagger - Not too long ago the Eagles used to step into the spotlight not just expecting to win, but knowing they would. Georgia Southern appeared to lose some of that earlier in the year in their loss at Appalachian State. Perhaps as important as their execution will be this football team's attitude. Head coach Jeff Monken has brought the famed triple-option offense back to Statesboro. The Eagles are still working to rediscover the other key ingredient that once made this program so special.
Keys for Wofford
1. Narrow the Field - The Terriers' bread-and-butter on offense is the north-south running game. It is consistent catalyst for their success. Against a fast and athletic Georgia Southern unit, running downhill may neutralize some of the strengths of the Eagle defense. GSU All-American tackle Brent Russell obviously must be accounted for. Some believe the best way to handle him, however, is to run right at him. The goal in doing so is to use quick-developing running plays featuring head-on group blocking to limit his effectiveness. Fullback Eric Breitenstein will need to have a productive game if Wofford is to win. Defensively, Appalachian State was able to find success versus Georgia Southern by forcing their option inward. The Mountaineers, using their speed and quickness, limited edge opportunities and forced Jaybo Shaw into 17 carries and Robert Brown into 15; the Eagles had a long run of just 12 yards.
2. Avoid Mental Lapses - In two games against the Eagles in 2010, the Terriers had 14 penalties for 152 yards; Georgia Southern had five penalties for 31 yards. That is a lot of hidden yardage to give up and, ultimately, have to overcome. Wofford has 53 penalties this season, the second-most in the Southern Conference. In many of their games this season the Eagles have taken advantage of a simple mistake by their opponent and turned it into points. Whether it's been on a blocked extra point, big return or trick play, Georgia Southern is always looking to catch you off guard. The Terriers must be on their toes.
3. Get Brenton Bersin the Ball - Even if just on occasion, the Terriers need to to make an attempt to find their leading receiver downfield. He had a touchdown reception in each of the games versus Georgia Southern a year ago and is averaging 18 yards per catch this season. It make take a big play or two to top the Eagles and Bersin is certainly capable of providing just that. Georgia Southern's defense has allowed the most passing yards of any team in the Southern Conference with 1,905.
Players to Watch
Georgia Southern: Brent Russell, DT - The all-everything man in the middle is back after missing a game due to suspension and will be looking to make an impact. Russell is a defender you simply cannot block one-on-one.
Wofford: Eric Breitenstein, RB - The Terriers will turn to their big back and turn to him often. How productive he is between the tackles will go a long way towards determining who wins this football game.
Rodney Atkins, Country Music Star - Wofford
B.J. Bennett, Publisher - Georgia Southern
J.T. Bennett, Staff Writer - Georgia Southern
Charlie K., National Columnist - Georgia Southern
Kevin Thomas, Staff Writer - Wofford