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This is Not the Same Georgia Southern

By Jim Johnson
SouthernPigskin.com
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This looks like a totally different Georgia Southern team than what they showed last year.

"We’re not sexy, we’re blue collar."
~Chad Lunsford

What a difference a year makes.

In 2017, Arkansas State turned the ball over five times and averaged the fewer yards per carry than they did all season, against Georgia Southern, and still beat the Eagles 43-25.

This time around, quarterback Justice Hansen was fantastic, they only turned the ball over once, and largely executed as well as could be expected. This was a similar Red Wolves team that played a much better game in 2018 than they did the year prior, and yet the result was a 28-21 loss. Not that much has changed from a season ago, especially offensively, for Blake Anderson’s group. Georgia Southern, on the other hand, seems like a totally different squad.

The most impressive thing about that might be that Chad Lunsford’s men didn’t even play their best game. Penalized eight times for for over 96 yards, this iteration of the Eagles was able to face adversity and overcome it; a sort of resiliency that was not present under the Tyson Summers regime.

“A lot of things weren’t going our way, but we had the ability to reset. We were able to just come out and play the next play, versus last year just going into panic mode and trying to force things. So, when things aren’t going our way -- penalties, three and outs -- we reset and play the next play,” stated running back Wesley Fields.

This is no coincidence. Rather, this is a result of a concerted effort to not only compete physically, but psychologically.

“That’s something that we’ve worked on all offseason,” Lunsford divulged. “I thought that was a big problem last year, not being able to respond to adversity. I have to give a huge shoutout to Dr. Harris. He’s a guy that has come in and worked with us on mental skills training. Our guys have really boughten in to that. When you hear the word reset, that’s something that we teach daily.”

And, even beyond the actual games, this is now a singularly focused unit striving towards a common goal.

“Everybody’s on the same page,” confirmed defensive lineman Logan Hunt. “We’re all aimed at one goal, not looking down the road. We’re focusing on being where our feet are at that moment.”

Lunsford echoed Hunt’s sentiments, sharing, “We said this was going to be a statement game. We needed to go make a statement and we did. The thing we have to be careful with as a team right now is not to start thinking we’re good enough. We have to know that we have to work for everything. We’re not sexy, we’re blue collar. We have to go in to each game expecting to win, but we have to work everyday to get those wins.”

Yards were occasionally hard to come by, but when they came, they came in chunks. Shai Werts, Wesley Fields, and Wes Kennedy combined for nine plays of 10+ yards, four of which went for 30+. Altogether, Georgia Southern rushed at a clip of 7.1 yards per carry, and always seemed to be able to dial up one of those big gainers when they most needed it. It was a dogfight, but offensive coordinator Bob DeBesse was near perfect at the game’s most critical stages.

That said, it was the defense that kept Arkansas State’s prolific offense at bay, and their team in the game when points were at a premium. There’s only so much one can do against Justice Hansen when he and those big receivers are clicking, as they mostly were between the 20’s. However, Logan Hunt, Monquavion Brinson and company took it to another level when their backs were against the wall.

That pair of standouts leading the way -- Hunt with three sacks, Brinson with four pass breakups -- Arkansas State was 0/3 on key fourth down conversions in the first half, and averaged a measly 2.63 points per scoring opportunity on the night, despite having entered the game putting up 4.26 points per trip.

Bend-don’t-break was the mantra, and it was executed to the fullest extent.

“As a defense, we have to make sure that we don’t give up the big play. We have to keep everything in front of us,” Lunsford expanded. “If we keep everything in front of us, that makes the offense have to work that much harder to get yards, to get points. I think that’s a huge difference between last year’s defense and this year’s defense. We’re doing a really good job of making sure we’re not giving up those explosives.”

Mission accomplished.

Georgia Southern’s strengths and philosophical approach matched up extremely favorably with a team like the Red Wolves, stylistically. They knew that, took advantage of it, and exploited those mismatches at every turn.

With the rest of the league’s “big three” fast approaching, Lunsford may have to do some tinkering, especially for App State, but there’s no doubt that this is a different Georgia Southern.

He said they wanted to make a statement this week. They did.

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