Georgia Southern (3-2, 2-0 Sun Belt) at New Mexico State (2-3, 1-0)
Kickoff: 8 p.m.
Radio: Georgia Southern Radio Network (102.1 FM, 105.5 FM)
Online: ESPN3, gseagles.com
There’s at least one trend being reversed at Georgia Southern by first-year head coach Willie Fritz, who came to Statesboro with 21 years of experience.
Up until now, you’d better not have had any head-coaching experience when you’re appointed the Eagles’ head coach.
Don’t believe me? Here’s a list of people Georgia Southern has given the head job with previous head coaching experience: Frank Ellwood (Marshall), Chris Hatcher (Valdosta State) and Brian VanGorder (Wayne State). Their combined records at GSU? 25-30.
Used to be you could only have success with the Eagles if Georgia Southern gave you your first shot as the head man. Erk Russell, Tim Stowers, Paul Johnson, Mike Sewak and Jeff Monken all became head coaches for the first time at Georgia Southern. Their combined records?
Sure, all the first-timers came from that first tree of Erk and Johnson, but that’s another trend being reversed. The Eagles still are one of the top rushing teams in the country — No. 1 in the Football Bowl Subdivision, in fact, according to ESPN.com — but they’ve found a new way to do it.
Fritz came in with a new way of doing things — and it’s his way.
And so far, it’s working.
Here are some other thoughts gathered after watching the Eagles run all over their hated rival Appalachian State last week:
• Appalachian State’s season has been a comedy of errors so far. The Mountaineers were fired up to get another shot at Michigan, but — even though both teams are shadows of their 2007 selves — Michigan walked all over them. They left 10 points on the field at Southern Miss after blocks and misses resulted in three bad field goals and a failed extra point that would have tied the game in the 21-20 loss. Then they didn’t show up against the Eagles, their biggest rival.
• If it’s been a comedy of errors for Appalachian State, it’s been a tragedy of success for the Eagles. They’re 2-0 in the Sun Belt, and were it not for fumbles at North Carolina State and Georgia Tech, which have a combined record of 8-1, they’d be 5-0, and the Sun Belt really would be put on notice.
• There hasn’t been a team this year that has outclassed Georgia Southern in the trenches. The Eagles went toe to toe with the defensive lines of N.C. State and ASU, and South Alabama didn’t stand a chance. They’ve allowed only two sacks — a number helped by the run-heavy offense, but impressive nonetheless.
• Speaking of the trenches, Georgia Southern’s defensive line was supposed to be the weakest part of the team. It may be the strongest. And that’s without Jonathan Battle, who sprained an ankle against Tech. The Eagles have 12 sacks and 28 tackles for loss. They had 11 sacks in all of 2013.
• Matt Brieda averages 9.4 yards per carry. Kevin Ellison averages 7, which would be more impressive if it weren’t for the team average of 7.3.
• Georgia Southern might have the best group of wide receivers the program has ever seen. Are there better individuals throughout the program’s history? Probably. But when B.J. Johnson, Kentrellis Showers and Zach Walker are on the field at the same time, that’s about as good as it’s been.
• I still think there are a couple of losses on the schedule, even if the team stays relatively healthy, but at this point, I couldn’t tell you where those losses might come from. The Eagles won the Southern Conference the year they joined it in 1993. It’s certainly not out of the question that history could repeat itself in 2014.