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Spring Check-In: Georgia Southern

Underdog Dynasty’s McClain Baxley fills us in on how spring practice went for LSU’s season-opening opponent Georgia Southern.

Raycom Media Camellia Bowl - Georgia Southern v Eastern Michigan Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

1. How did spring practice go over at Georgia Southern?

Because Head Coach Chad Lunsford already had his coaching staff in place, the Eagles were able to get to work and finish spring ball more than a month earlier than last year. Having the full spring practice period proved beneficial for the team. The main points of emphasis were to further engrave offensive coordinator Bob Debesse’s offensive schemes into the entire offense and improve upon the success of the secondary on defense. The GS secondary was one of the top in the Group of 5 in 2018, and with a few departures, defensive coordinator Scot Sloan made sure some of the new faces got experience to add to the depth. On offense, the big key was finding a new leading running back after Wesley Fields and Monteo Garrett graduated.

2. How many returning starters are back from last year’s 10-3 squad, and what are the expectations for the 2019 team?

Most of the starters in all three phases return, but the area that took the biggest hit was the offensive line. Center Curtis Rainey, a first team All-Sun Belt member, and Jeremiah Culbreth, second team All-Sun Belt and was in on a team-high 678 snaps, both graduated. Redshirt-senior Jakob Cooper is expected to move from guard to center to fill that void, but obviously in an option offense the play of the OL is even more crucial. As far as expectations go, I think the annual goal of winning the Sun Belt is still there. The Eagles were a Senior Day loss against Troy away from winning the East division and more than likely winning the inaugural Sun Belt championship game. The challenge is greater though, with playing the three best teams in the conference on the road—Troy, Appalachian State and Arkansas State. For the first time since 2014, GS will have six Saturday home games and all six contests are very winnable. Vegas says the win total is 8.5 and I would lean towards the under, but given where the team was two years ago that would still be huge.

3. Who are some players that LSU fans should know in advance of next season’s opener?

The two names that stick out are cornerback Kindle Vildor and quarterback Shai Werts. Vildor finished 2018 with four interceptions, 42 tackles and 15 pass breakups to earn first team All-Sun Belt honors. As a junior, Vildor was listed as an All-American by Pro Football Focus. He plays lockdown defense and has one of the quickest recoveries if he gets beat. Against Clemson last year, Vildor had two tackles and an interception. Apparently he was listed on a few draft projections, provoking him to post an “I’m staying at Georgia Southern” post on social media. Werts improved drastically from year one to year two. Last season, Werts rushed for 908 yards and 15 touchdowns in his first year in Debesse’s pistol option offense. Almost just as impressively, the redshirt-sophomore threw for 987 yards, 10 touchdowns and an FBS-best zero interceptions. Werts earned honorable mention Sun Belt honors.

4. Anyone who knows anything about GSU knows they’ll bring a triple option offense, but what about the defense?

Vildor and Monquavion Brinson are two really good cornerbacks, but the safety position will be a shaky area in the secondary. Redshirts Kenderick Duncan Jr and Darrell Baker Jr will be replacing the solid production of Joshua Moon who graduated. The two new starting safeties combined for just 45 tackles in 2018. The defensive line is returning a lot of talent for the Eagles, headlined by Raymand Johnson III at defensive end and Ty Phillips at nose tackle. Johnson earned second team Sun Belt honors with eight TFL, 4.5 sacks and a forced fumble in his sophomore campaign. On the other side of the line is Phillips who had three TFL and 2.5 sacks for the Eagles

5. How do fans view this early season match-up with what should be a pretty highly ranked LSU team? Thinking upset, or just trying to keep respectable to get ready for Sun Belt play?

GS defeated Florida in 2013, went to overtime with Georgia in 2015 and was tied with Clemson at the end of the first quarter in 2018. So, fans believe that it is possible, but even the most passionate of Eagle Nation have to agree that the idea of defeating a top-10 ranked LSU team in Death Valley is one that is pretty far-fetched. So as long as GS doesn’t get completely embarrassed and is able to set up something on offense, fans will be able to call it a successful trip to Baton Rouge.