If one were going to give a grade to the Georgia Southern Eagles halfway through the season, one might be tempted to issue an “incomplete.”
The Eagles (4-2, 2-2 Southern Conference) pounded Savannah State and St. Francis by a combined score of 136-26, before being eaten alive by injuries and going 2-2 in conference play, winning two tough home games against Chattanooga and The Citadel and losing two tough road games to the SoCon’s top two teams — Wofford and Samford.
The injury bug has forced the Eagles into doing some things on both sides of the football that they’re not entirely comfortable with, but one can’t issue a grade based on injured talent, only the product on the field.
And “incomplete” is no fun.
So, the wins over SSU and St. Francis, while convincing, were sloppy, B-minus wins.
GSU is 4-0 at home, and Chattanooga and The Citadel certainly aren’t patsies. However, the Eagles haven’t won a road game yet, losing by 10 points in each road game so far.
The defense has played well at home but has been awful on the road, especially against the pass — GSU gave up 119 passing yards on only five completions against Wofford, and Samford quarterback Andy Summerlin passed for a career-high 495 yards against GSU.
The offense has done enough to win every game — when it’s not turning the ball over. Add to that the fact that the Eagles, for all intents and purposes, don’t currently have enough running backs to commit to their base, option offense, and the numbers the offense has put up have been more than adequate.
Team Grade: C-plus
Offense — B-plus
A quick look at GSU’s offensive numbers gives a pretty solid impression. As a team, the Eagles are averaging 491.5 yards per play and score 40 points per game.
To be fair, in SoCon games, the scoring average drops all the way to 26 points per game, but considering the Eagles average 27 in losses and 25.5 in wins, the argument could be made that the offense has done enough in all six games.
Quarterback Kevin Ellison has been the biggest surprise, completing 65 percent of his passes. He’s thrown for 562 yards on only 26 completions and has helped GSU to 122 passing yards per game. A solid group of young wide receivers has helped immensely.
Jerick McKinnon is silly good at running the football. He already has 794 rushing yards and 8 touchdowns, a good season for a lot of option players.
The X-factor is William Banks, the fullback who allows the offense to do what it wants to when he is healthy enough to play.
The offensive line has looked good at times and bad at other times, but the Eagles did a good job of playing from the O-line’s strengths Oct. 12 against The Citadel. Injuries have been a problem there, too.
Defense — C
J.J. Wilcox is a starter in the NFL. Brent Russell was an All-American — all four years. John Stevenson led the team in tackles. Dion DuBose had unmatched speed at defensive end.
When you lose all of that, it’s no surprise the defense took a step backwards after the 2012 season. Add in some more injuries, and it’s even less of a surprise.
There have been bright spots, most notably true freshman defensive lineman Rafael Hardee and veteran Edwin Jackson at middle linebacker, and the Eagles consistently have stopped the run. They’re allowing 185 rushing yards per game, and that’s not too bad when you consider GSU already has played the other two option teams in the SoCon.
One can hope the long day against Samford was an anomaly.
The biggest improvement needs to come in the turnover department. The Eagles have forced only three turnovers this season in SoCon games, and if the GSU defense starts taking the ball away, they’ll really begin to have an impact.
The Eagles are 6 for 8 on field goals (Younghoe Koo and Alex Hanks are a combined 6 for 6), and have missed only one extra point. Ryan Nowicki and Luke Cherry combine to average 41 yards per punt, and Hanks has drilled 14 touchbacks on kickoffs.
Field goals still are a bit touch-and-go, so it’s hard to determine if they are one of GSU’s strength yet, though Koo successfully kicked under pressure in the win over Chattanooga.
The return game has struggled, as the Eagles average only 15.8 yards returning kickoffs to their opponents’ 20.
Until GSU finds reliable kick returners, punt returners (Brandon Thomas, maybe?) and solidifies the placekicking situation, it’s tough to issue a grade.