By Josh Aubrey, Statesboro Herald
The Georgia Southern Eagles had no problems in their season opener with The Citadel as they breezed to a 34-0 victory. The win wasn’t without a few coachable moments though as the Eagle offense sputtered a bit late, scoring on their opening drive of the third quarter, but only had one field goal the rest of the game.
This week the Eagles host the UAB Blazers and Georgia Southern head coach Clay Helton feels like they addressed a couple of their concerns from Saturday this week and is confident they will be ready for the Blazers.
“I feel like we got a great effort from our defense for the entire game and hats off to defensive coordinator Brandon Bailey for having those guys ready,” Helton said. “Offensively we scored on our first five drives and then got a little sloppy with penalties which gave us something to coach them about this week. I thought our specialists Alex Smith and Michael Lantz did a tremendous job of putting points on the board and there were no return yards for The Citadel.”
The Eagles go from a run-heavy offense to a team that is much more balanced in the UAB Blazers. UAB knocked off N.C. A&T 35-6 last week in Birmingham. The Blazers rushed for 167 yards and threw for 291 yards Saturday.
“This week we have a high-tempo, spread the field team that uses every weapon they have,” Helton said. “They have a very balanced offense. They threw for more yards than they rushed Saturday but we are well aware how effective they can be running the ball.”
Helton need look no further than last year’s game to see how tough the Blazers can be in the run game. In Birmingham UAB rushed the ball 43 times for 288 yards for an average of 6.7 yards per carry. Dewayne McBride was nearly unstoppable as he ran for 223 yards and four touchdowns.
McBride may be gone, but the Blazers still rushed for 167 yards on 30 carries for an average of 5.6 per rush last week. Where they have improved is in the passing game as quarterback Jacob Zino under the tutelage of former NFL quarterback and first year head coach Trent Dilfer and offensive coordinator Alex Mortenson completed 38 of 41 passes for 291 yards and three touchdowns last Saturday.
“They have a really good quarterback in Jacob Zino,” Helton said. “You saw how effective he was throwing the ball and you expect that with a head coach like Trent Dilfer who is one of the better quarterback coaches in the country. It is going to be a great challenge for us going in Saturday.”
The Eagle defense was able to have one of only five shutouts nationally in week one. Players and coaches know they will have to step up their game this Saturday.
“I feel like we have to have a different mentality this week,” said Eagle defensive back T.J. Smith. “Last week we played a team that ran more, this week it’s a more versatile offense. I think we actually match up better against UAB. We have said we want to be the best defense in the nation and we are going to attack them full speed. I definitely enjoy the challenge because it is going to show us who we are as a defense.”
The Blazer defense gave the Eagles troubles last year as they allowed only 204 yards passing and picked quarterback Kyle Vantrease off three times. Last week they held N.C. A&T to 147 yards rushing and only 16 yards passing.
“Defensively they have coaches still on staff who used a drop-eight front against us,” Helton said. “Last week they showed 10 and 11 personnel so you have to be ready for anything. We will have to have answers offensively for both styles of defense. I think there will be a little bit of an adjustment period on the first drive or so just to see what’s going on defensively and then just go from there.”
Helton admits every game is big, but aside from conference games he feels a win against a quality team like UAB can go a long way in different categories.
“The thing I appreciate about our conference is what they do outside of our conference,” Helton said. “Our conference went 10-4 last week and included a win by Texas State against a Power-5 conference. It is important for us for our resume and respect as a conference and Georgia Southern as far as what we do out of conference. Here is a quality opponent we match up with closely and it is going to be about who executes better. It is also important for recruiting as we recruit within the state as well as the outlying states which includes Alabama.”