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On Their Own Terms

By Jim Johnson
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Georgia Southern didn’t just hand their greatest rival their first loss in over a year, on the road, earning their second ever win over a ranked team in the process. They did it on their terms.

Georgia Southern didn’t just beat their greatest rival.

They didn’t just do it on their greatest rival’s home turf.

They didn’t just hand their greatest rival their first loss in over a year, on the road, earning their second ever win over a ranked team in the process.

They did it on their terms.

Appalachian State entered the contest as a two touchdown favorite, ranked in the national top 20, and unbeaten since the last time these teams faced off.

With the Sun Belt East lead and a potential New Year’s Six bowl bid on the line, in front of a national television audience, this was never a game the Mountaineers were going to overlook, even aside from theirs and the Eagles’ shared history, not to mention what happened a season ago.

Based on everything these teams had shown all season, App State domination was the pregame expectation, and there would be no excuses for anything less.

Once toe met leather, however, none of that mattered to anyone on the visitor’s sideline.

It was a vintage performance from Georgia Southern, especially in the first half.

They dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.

Over the first 30 minutes, Georgia Southern’s offensive line averaged 3.04 line yards per carry. Their defensive line only allowed 2.13 line yards per carry.

They gained at least five yards on 52% of their opportunities, while allowing the Mountaineers to do so just 33% of the time.

And they dropped App State’s ball carriers at or behind the line of scrimmage on 26.7% of their rush attempts, but only allowed their own runners to be stopped there at an 18.5% rate.

They dominated the time of possession, keeping the ball for over eight minutes of the first quarter, almost nine minutes in the second quarter, another 8:20 in the third, and one second shy of eight minutes in the final frame.

They were playmaking on defense, racking up 19 havoc plays (sacks, tackles for loss, passes defended, forced fumbles, and QBH’s) to App State’s 7. Granted, App State did run more plays, but the Eagles’ 23.5% havoc rate still more than doubled that of their rivals.

They avoided third and long. Georgia Southern’s average third down distance was 4.6 yards to App State’s 8 yards, and whilst their opponents faced 7 third and 9+’s, Georgia Southern saw none.

Plus, on those more manageable conversions attempts, Chad Lunsford’s squad got the job done on 4/7 third and four-or-less. The home team went just 1/5 in those situations.

And, of course, they finally stopped putting the ball in harm’s way. No turnovers. No fumbles. It was almost like 2018 again.

Now, despite Georgia Southern’s relatively underwhelming start to the season, especially when compared to App State’s first seven games, it’s the Eagles that have the inside track to the Sun Belt title game.

In many ways, even though it didn’t feel like it going into the game, Lunsford and company are in better shape right now than many expected them to be in at this point, ahead of the season.

They’re 0-2 against two currently unbeaten Power Five teams. Their one conference loss came to a super impressive Louisiana group that will likely find itself back in the title game, in December. They’re 4-0 against the teams they were supposed to beat (granted, probably not in the fashion the Eagle faithful would have preferred). And, above all else, they’re 1-0 against App State, which no one saw coming.

Moreover, after beating the Sun Belt favorites in Boone, and gaining the head-to-head edge in the divisional race whilst doing so, what once looked like a challenging final third of the season doesn’t feel quite as daunting.

Troy’s defense is nowhere near what it was last year, and is arguably one of the two or three worst in the conference, ULM’s might be even worse, Arkansas State has been bitten harder by the injury bug than anyone else in the league, and though Georgia State has impressed of late, that’s also the same team that gave up 34 to an anemic Texas State offense in a three-point win, and lost by 47 to Western Michigan.

Betting on App State to drop another conference game doesn’t seem like a good idea, but if Georgia Southern wins out, it doesn’t matter. That’s not unfathomable after what transpired tonight.

Sure, the Mountaineers did its best to mount a comeback, and the Eagles still have some issues to iron out, but this game -- particularly the first half -- provided a glimpse of just how good that team can be.

Georgia Southern isn’t just starting to peak at the right time… they’re doing it their way.

Jim Johnson - Editor of Southern Pigskin, Producer of "Three & Out", and host of "Explosive Recruiting" on the Southern Pigskin Radio Network. E-mail: Twitter: @JimJohnsonSP