Chattanooga at No. 15 Georgia Southern
Saturday, 6 p.m. ET
Allen E. Paulson Stadium (18,000) • Statesboro, Ga.
Radio: ESPN 105.1 FM
Series Record: Georgia Southern leads 22-4
Why Saturday is important
Chattanooga was blindsided by visiting UT Martin nearly a month ago. Since that humbling 31-21 loss to the Skyhawks, the Mocs have knocked off a pair of lesser opponents. Now, as they prepare for their Southern Conference opener at Georgia Southern, it’s time to see if they’re for real. The 15th-ranked Eagles, who demolished their first two opponents by a combined score of 136-26, are coming off their first loss of the season — a 30-20 setback at Wofford two weeks ago — so there’s little chance of UTC sneaking up and stealing a win in Statesboro. Both teams have had an extra week to prepare for each other and should be ready to go Saturday. This isn’t a must-win for the Mocs — the result won’t even count towards their SoCon record — but a victory would send Chattanooga’s confidence level soaring to heights unseen since the offseason.
Three things to know about Georgia Southern
Georgia Southern leads the SoCon in total offense (542.7 ypg), rushing offense (408.0 ypg) and scoring offense (52.0 ppg). But as dominant as the team has been offensively, their defense has been pretty good, too, especially against the pass. The Eagles also lead the league in pass defense (125.0 ypg) and pass efficiency defense (77.9) ... GSU has been tough to beat at home. Since it’s opening in 1984, the Eagles have compiled a 173-32 record (.844) at Paulson Stadium. Last season’s 31-28 defeat to Appalachian State serves as the last home loss for the Eagles. UTC is just 1-12 when playing in Statesboro ... The Eagles own a 22-4 series advantage over the Mocs. It’s the second-longest series for Georgia Southern among current SoCon opponents.
What you should know about Georgia Southern’s Jeff Monken
Monken worked 13 years as an assistant to Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson, including five years as the slotbacks coach at Georgia Southern from 1997-2001. Those years were amongst the most successful in the school’s history. During that time, the Eagles went 62-10, won two FCS National Championships (1999 and 2000), made five consecutive playoff appearances, won five SoCon titles and went undefeated in the 1998 regular season. Monken followed Johnson to Navy and Georgia Tech before returning to Georgia Southern as head coach in 2010. Monken reinstated the triple-option at GSU, and he’s led the the Eagles to the national semifinals in each of his first three seasons in charge.
Chattanooga player to watch
Quarterback Jacob Huesman hasn’t had any eye-popping stat lines his last two times out. He really hasn’t had to, though. He’s thrown for a combined 226 yards and three touchdowns in lopsided wins over Georgia State and Austin Peay. He’ll likely be asked to do more Saturday.
Georgia Southern player to watch
Senior quarterback Jerick McKinnon is the catalyst of the Eagles’ explosive offense, and he torched the Mocs for 128 yards and three rushing touchdowns a season ago. The 5-foot-9, 215-pounder can certainly move, but he possesses more than just speed. He’s also a load to bring down. In fact, two weeks ago at Wofford, McKinnon played running back, piling up 114 yards and a pair of scores. Whether he’s under center or lined up in the backfield, UTC would be wise to keep an eye on him.
Random facts to impress your friends
Georgia Southern isn’t listed in the FCS statistical rankings because it is making the transition to the Football Bowl Subdivision and will compete in the Sun Belt Conference. If they were included, however, they’d lead the nation in rushing offense and rank second in scoring offense. The Mocs are 10th in the country on the ground (271.0 ypg) ... In the Russ Huesman era, each of the four games against Georgia Southern have been decided by 10 points or less. The Eagles won last year’s game 39-31 in triple-overtime and took the 2011 contest 28-27 after stopping a two-point conversion attempt late in the fourth quarter ... UTC leads the SoCon in scoring defense (18.3 ppg) and ranks second in total defense (321.3 ypg). However, not a single Chattanooga defender ranks in the top-20 in tackles. Senior cornerback Kadeem Wise leads the team with 20 stops on the season ... Junior running back Keon Williams is second in the SoCon is rushing yards (97.7 ypg) and rushing touchdowns (4).
“Last week we got after them pretty good and I think we had a good week of practice. This is a big one. It’s Georgia Southern; great atmosphere down there and a great place to play a football game. It’s our first conference game and we’re looking forward to it.”
— UTC head coach Russ Huesman
The Mocs will win if ...
They get off to yet another fast start offensively, and can do enough to slow down Georgia Southern’s lethal triple-option attack. They’re not going to be able to completely shut the Eagles down, but they’ll have to at least limit the number of big plays.
The Mocs will lose if ...
They turn the ball over too many times. Scoring opportunities are sacred when playing an option team like GSU, and just a couple mistakes could cost Chattanooga the game.
Georgia Southern 31, Chattanooga 30
Michael Murphy covers UTC athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelNooga.
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