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Playin Nice: Georgia Southern with McClain Baxley of The George Anne

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We are three days away from LSU’s 2019 football season beginning. With Saturday fast approaching the focus is shifting toward LSU’s opponent, Georgia Southern from the Sun Belt. The Eagles have been on the FBS level since 2014 after winning six FCS national championships.

Georgia Southern has had its share of ups and downs since jumping up to the FBS: the Eagles won the Sun Belt in its inaugural season, and went 9-4 in 2015. But in 2017, the Eagles went 2-10 and fired former coach Tyson Summers after an 0-6 start. Chad Lunsford took over and the Eagles went from 2-10 in 2017 to 10-3 in 2018. Here to give further insight on Georgia Southern is McClain Baxley, editor-in-chief of The George Anne, the campus’s student newspaper.

  1. I assume most if not all of the hubub surrounding quarterback Shai Werts has died down by now. What’s been his mindset since rejoining the team?

Even before the charge was dropped, Werts returned to practice and was playing really unbothered by all of the distraction. Now that he’s clear, his focused mindset is in full gear. He always talks about not being scared of another team and he shows that in practice and in front of the media. He’ll never say it, but many GS fans will: Werts didn’t get the postseason credit he deserved. I think if everything goes as planned, he should be at least second team Sun Belt.

2. Georiga Southern presents a unique test with its triple option attack. Werts is back, but the Eagles lots its leading runners Wesley Fields and Monteo Garret and a pair of All-Sun Belt linemen. LSU’s expected to have one of the nastier defenses in college football. How are Chad Lunsford and OC Bob DeBesse planning on attacking Dave Aranda’s squad?

Both starting running backs last season were very “between the tackles” runners. With Wes Kennedy and J.D. King, they’re more dynamic. I expect the spread option to be in full force not only this weekend, but for a lot of the season. Werts has an arm and there are underrated wide receivers on each side. Something that worked well for the Eagles in 2018 was their ability to keep the defense so focused on the ground game and then launching a ball for a 40+ yard touchdown pass.

3. For the umpteenth time, we’ve spent all summer saying this year LSU will be more dynamic on offense. But this time it feels a little more real with Joe Brady added on to the staff. If LSU truly does open the offense up, is there a better cornerback duo to test out this alleged new offense than Kindle Vildor and Monquavion Brinson?

Kindle Vildor is a first round draft pick. He has one of the highest football IQs I’ve seen from a G5 team. Monquavion Brinson might be faster than Vildor and I expect he’ll be tested more with teams trying to avoid Vildor’s side. With LSU’s history of strong running backs, the true test of offense vs defense should be GS’ defensive line. They lost a couple of three-year starters, but still have All-Sun Belt defensive end Raymond Johnson III and now have Syracuse transfer end Justin Ellis. There’s talent on the line, but can they break through an SEC offensive line? That’s a tougher task.

4. Last season Cole Tracy had one of the best kicking seasons in LSU football history, but he’s graduated. On the other hand, Georgia Southern’s kicker Tyler Bass is back after going 45-45 on PATs and 19-21 on field goals. Kicking played a hand in the last time a Sun Belt team beat LSU, could Bass be the key for Georgia Southern?

Tyler Bass is clutch. In several big moments through his career, he’s been able to hit it, no matter the distance. While a lot of kickers struggle in hostile environments, for Bass its his own head that’s been his flaw. Last season he was perfect until he missed two in the upset loss to ULM. I expect Bass to hit two or three field goals Saturday to give GS a chance.

5. We’re only two years removed from fellow Sun Belt member Troy coming into Baton Rouge and stunning the Tigers at home. What do the Eagles need to do to channel their inner Trojan and pull off the upset, and do you think they will?

Turnovers and trick plays. GS had the best turnover ratio in 2018 with+22. That was a combined effort from a strong defense and a stingy offense. Against Clemson, the Eagles forced three turnovers and only turned the ball over once to keep the Tigers within reach. The Eagles found endzone against the national champions on a double pass, which is the type of creativity they’ll need against this year’s Tigers to find the endzone. I think GS will beat the 27 point spread, but don’t have them starting the season 1-0.