Saturday was the first time all season I actually felt like I was at a Georgia Southern football game.
A real Georgia Southern football game, not the fledgling mess that’s been taking the field in previous weeks. A game that felt like it mattered — a game where in the final minutes your chest tightens up like a vice-grip in anticipation.
The win over Troy is what you sign up for when you come to Georgia Southern, or at least that’s how I understand it. A back-and-forth affair where both teams have a stake in the win or loss. When Troy rushed that low pass to the inside corner of the endzone and the ball fell incomplete, that’s easily the loudest I had heard Paulson all year.
It felt great to be there and witness all of it, even as someone who’s not a fan of either team. It’s not often you get to say that about a game.
I was happy for the seniors, the fans and even happy for Tyson Summers — who after 13 weeks couldn’t imagine this season ending in a win over a 9-2, now 9-3 Troy team.
But through the haze of fanfare, alcohol and irrational thinking that goes on with an upset win like this, it can be easy to forget what’s preceded this game — one of the worst seasons in the history of Georgia Southern football.
I actually asked Summers at his postgame presser if he thought Saturday’s game could be a figurative “band-aid” for the 2016 season as a whole.
“I don’t really know how to answer that…”
He followed that with a whole bunch of platitudes and coaching cliches that really didn’t mean a hill of beans to me. If he can’t answer that question with a simple yes or no, allow me.
No. It shouldn’t.
Remember, Troy is an outlier. It is a data point that doesn’t fall in line with the rest of Georgia Southern’s 2016. Yes, it was the best game Southern’s played all season and a great win — but not indicative of 2016.
In all honesty, if BJ Johnson doesn’t have an out-of-body experience and Troy doesn’t screw up their timeouts in the fourth quarter — Georgia Southern loses Saturday’s game. And instead we’re running around with pitchforks and torches calling for Summers’ head immediately following the fourth quarter.
I’m not trying to downplay the win, as I said it’s a great victory — but it shouldn’t distract everyone from Southern’s product as a whole in 2016,
That’d be like saying the year 2016 is okay because the Mexican government caught El Chapo. As if El Chapo in jail would erase this awful election, the hurricane, terrorist attacks or the zika outbreak. The notion would sound ridiculous.
The same applies for Georgia Southern. A close upset win doesn’t erase the fact the team lost to UL-Lafayette and Georgia State. It doesn’t erase the complete lack of offensive identity. It doesn’t erase the fact a 9-4 bowl winning team returning with the same cast fell inexplicably to 5-7.
But Georgia Southern’s 2016 woes don’t stop on the field. Recruiting has dropped from first to fifth in the Sun Belt, which is a very big deal. Eagle fans can’t possibly expect to compete with schools outside the conference if they can’t get the best players from within their own conference.
That’s something Southern has always taken pride in — being able to compete with the big boys of division one. You can’t do that with the fifth best class in the Sun Belt.
And while these are just rumblings and nothing is yet confirmed: there are strong rumors of poor academic performance on the team, which could mean another hit on the already flimsy concept of “student-athlete.”
Let’s just say Tyson Summers needed this win: bad.
Because outside of Saturday there wasn’t much to grab onto as for a reason to keep him around — even knowing I’m anti-firing-the-coach-after-one-year.
It’s clear now Southern’s high brass was looking for a reason to keep him around for another year, and they found their reason Saturday afternoon. A win over a pseudo-top-25 team can help save most jobs, even Summers’ considering all that’s happened in 2016.
But, if you’re a fan, administrator or coach don’t let a four point win blind you to what this season is in the annals of Georgia Southern football history.
The only two men to have season’s worse than 5-7 are Frank Ellerwood and Brian VanGorder. And we know what happened to them after one season.
Summers owes Johnson and Neal Brown a drink, because it’s clear they alone saved his hide from packing up and moving far away Statesboro.
Stanley is a sportswriter for the Statesboro Herald.