Chattanooga at Georgia Southern
When: Saturday, Sept. 28, 2013. 6 p.m. ET
Where: Statesboro, Ga.
Georgia Southern at a glance:
Head coach: Jeff Monken (4th season at Georgia Southern)
All-time record: 275-111-1
2012 record: 10-4 (6-2 SoCon)
Returning starters: 7 (offense), 6 (defense)
2012 overview: Georgia Southern came up two wins shy of its seventh national championship last season, suffering a 23-20 loss to North Dakota State in an FCS semifinal game, and their triple-option offense was nearly unstoppable along the way.
The Eagles ground game, led by quarterback Jerick McKinon and fullback Dominique Swope — both returning in 2013 — led the nation in yards (5,591), touchdowns (55) and yards per carry (6.6), eating up game clock and wins en route to an 8-3 regular-season record.
After kicking off the season with a 58-0 throttling of Jacksonville, the Eagles were tripped up in Week 2, falling to an upstart Citadel team, 23-21, in Charleston, S.C. Following the early-season setback, though, GSU strung together six-straight victories, culminating with a 39-31, triple-overtime win over the Mocs. And while the Eagles came away from that epic Oct. 27 struggle at Finley Stadium with a W, it seemed to take a little extra out of them, resulting in a 31-28 home loss to Appalachian State the following week.
Georgia Southern suffered a 45-14 loss Georgia in Athens, Ga., to close out their regular-season schedule, but captured playoff wins over Central Arkansas (24-16) and Old Dominion (49-35) before losing to the eventual national champion Bison.
After accepting an invitation to the FBS’ Sun Belt Conference this offseason, the Eagles won’t be eligible for the FCS playoffs or a SoCon title in 2013. They’ll still play a full SoCon schedule this fall, though, and they’ll be playing the role of spoiler for teams like Chattanooga, eyeing its first SoCon title and playoff appearance since 1984.
Three questions for the 2013 matchup:
Can the Mocs finally pull one out against the Eagles?
UTC’s last two meetings with GSU — both losses — were decided by a combined eight points. The last time the Mocs visited Paulson Stadium (2011) — Terrell Robinson’s “coming out party” — they came away with a heartbreaking 28-27 loss to the top-ranked Eagles. Their 2012 loss to Georgia Southern was every bit as brutal. UTC’s last win in Statesboro came in 2007 — a 45-38 overtime victory over a 7-4 Eagles squad. Can the Mocs duplicate that result this fall, or will they be heading back to the Scenic City with yet another agonizing defeat?
Can Chattanooga’s defense stand up to Georgia Southern’s offense?
This one will probably pit one of the SoCon’s top-ranked defenses against one of the league’s, if not the nation’s, top-ranked offenses. The Mocs’ D did a decent job against the Eagles in 2012, holding them below their season averages in rushing yards (372) and total yards (427), but it proved to not be enough.
Will UTC be ready for the Eagles?
It’s not like the Mocs’ early-season schedule is loaded with Division II opponents, but it’s not exactly a meat grinder, either. Chattanooga could, realistically, be 3-0 heading into this one, but its Sept. 28 trip to Statesboro will be the team’s first true test of 2013. The Mocs were riding a three-game winning streak heading into their 2012 matchup with the Eagles, and while they ultimately made a game of it, they faced a two-touchdown deficit midway through the first quarter. Avoiding another slow start could be crucial.
How will it play out?
Both teams return the bulk of their 2012 starters, and based on how the last two turned out, this one should be close. Georgia Southern is probably the superior team and will likely be the favorite heading in. A loss certainly wouldn’t sink the Mocs’ season, but these are the kind of games Chattanooga needs to win to get to the next level.
Michael Murphy covers UTC athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelNooga.