In Georgia Southern’s first game since topping the polls, there were plenty of fireworks.
The No. 1 Eagles amassed 694 yards of offense and rushed for 634 on the way to a 52-20 win Saturday over Western Carolina in Paulson Stadium.
Head coach Jeff Monken was less concerned with what went right and more with missed opportunities. The Eagles committed 13 penalties for 120 yards and fumbled twice, once for a turnover and once for a 16-yard loss.
“There were some opportunities in the first half,” Monken said. “The rushing total is not something we strive for, (as in) ‘We want to get this many hundred yards.’ We want to win the game, but when we have opportunities, we don’t want to let them slip away.”
The Eagles (3-0, 2-0 Southern Conference) improved to 11-0 all-time against WCU in Paulson Stadium and 20-2 overall.
Reserves entered the game early in the third quarter, and the Catamounts (1-1, 0-1) managed a pair of second-half scores, but GSU got contributions from everywhere.
The Eagles eclipsed 500 rushing yards with 11 minutes, 11 seconds remaining in the game when J.J. Wilcox scored his second touchdown of the game on an option pitch from 10 yards out.
The longest play of the season came by way of the legs of third-string quarterback Ezayi Youyoute (four carries, 119 yards), who scored on an 83-yard option keeper in the fourth quarter.
Youyoute was one of three Eagles, including Wilcox (6-115) and Jerick McKinnon (10-122), to surpass 100 yards. Robert Brown had 14 carries for 99 yards.
“It’s a great accomplishment,” McKinnon said.
“The offense works hard all season, and it shows.”
McKinnon threw 20-yard touchdown pass to Kentrellis Showers and scored on a 14-yard keeper in the third quarter.
The first offensive play from scrimmage for the Eagles was good for a score, as Wilcox took an option pitch 36 yards for a touchdown after Western opened the game with a three-and-out.
The perimeter was good to the Eagles in the first half, as pitches and keepers by quarterback Jaybo Shaw did most of the damage. Just two quarters into the game, GSU rushed for 326 yards on 38 carries.
Shaw left the game on the first drive of the third quarter.
Wilcox scored again at the end of the second quarter from 18 yards out on another option pitch, but the play was nullified by a hold. That series came to an end when Brown fumbled on 1st and goal from the 5-yard line.
The Catamounts held GSU to a turnover on downs on the previous drive when Brown was stuffed on 4th-and-1 from the 2-yard line. The Eagles had previously scored on each of the first four drives.
Western answered GSU’s first score with a nine-play, 80-yard drive that tied the game at 7-7 when running back Michael Johnson scored from three yards out.
It was all Eagles after that.
A 23-yard field goal by Adrian Mora made it 10-7, and GSU scored for the third time in the first quarter on an eight-play, 81-yard drive set up with a 31-yard run by Wilcox from a pitch down to the 6-yard line. Wilcox ran it again down to the 1, and Shaw scored on a keeper to out the Eagles up 17-7.
Early in the second quarter, after the third WCU three-and-out of the game, McKinnon took over for what was the longest play so far in the 2011 season until Youyoute’s run. He took a handoff from the shotgun between the tackles for 75 yards and a 24-7 GSU lead, which was the margin at the break.
NOTES: The 634 rushing yards by the Eagles marked the third-most in program history. The total was four shy of the 638 against Youngstown State in the 1999 national championship game. Mora’s field goal was the 49th of his career, one short of the GSU record of 50 set by Tim Foley from 1984-87. Laron Scott, who intercepted a GSU record-tying six passes in 2010, recorded his first of 2011. He also tipped a pass that was picked off by Darius Eubanks. ... The win marked the 17th-straight time GSU defeated the Catamounts, the longest active streak between two SoCon teams. ... McKinnon’s 75-yard run was the longest of his career, and longest GSU run of the season until Youyoute’s 83 yard scoring run in the fourth quarter - his career long. The 20-yard touchdown to Showers was McKinnon’s first-career touchdown pass, and the longest completion of his career. Youyoute completed his first-career pass to Markus Farmer in the 4th. ... Slotback Darreion Robinson, who missed the first two games of the season battling injury, returned to action Saturday. He finished with five carries for yards. ... True freshman Zach Walker caught his first-career reception in the 4th quarter, a 19-yard gain from McKinnon. ... Announced attendance was 19,067.
Matt Yogus can be reached at (912) 489-9408.