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Eagles open Saturday at West Virginia

STATESBORO — The Georgia Southern Eagles will take on the Mountaineers of West Virginia on Saturday, marking the second straight season that the Eagles open up on the road against a team from a “Power 5” conference.

Georgia Southern nearly upset North Carolina State last year and now gets a chance to knock off a Mountaineer team that went 7-
6 last year with a 5-4 record in the Big 12 and made a Liberty Bowl appearance.

The marquee matchup in this week’s opener figures to be Georgia Southern’s backfield — which brings back nearly every weapon from last season’s nation-leading rushing team — and a Mountaineer defense that showed improvement in 2014 and that returns nine starters.

The strength of the WVU defense lies in its secondary as it returns the entirety of one of the best defensive-back units in the country. They might not have to defend the pass as much as usual with the Eagles’ proclivity to run and backup quarterback Favian Upshaw getting the start in place of the suspended Kevin Ellison. Still, Mountaineer senior defensive backs K.J. Dillon and Karl Joseph have shown plenty of ability in stepping up and stopping the run.

On the other side of the ball, the Mountaineers return their two leading rushers from last season. Rushel Shell led the team with 788 yards on the ground, while Wendell Smallwood was right on his heels with 722 yards. Shell held the edge with a team-leading seven rushing touchdowns.

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