Georgia Southern vs. The Citadel: Matchup Offers Intriguing Week 2 Encounter

John Hooper@soconjohn22Correspondent IISeptember 8, 2012

WHO: Georgia Southern (1-0, 0-0 SoCon) at The Citadel (1-0, 0-0 SoCon)

WHEN: Sept. 8, 2012

WHERE: Charleston, S.C., Johnson Hagood Stadium

Overview: Georgia Southern and The Citadel seem to always be one of the more contested rivalries in the Southern Conference, but it doesn’t get the recognition that some of the other matchups around the league get.

Georgia Southern opened its 2012 season with a convincing 58-0 win over Jacksonville, while The Citadel looked impressive in handing cross-town rivals Charleston Southern.

Last season was no different, as Georgia Southern hung on to get a 14-12 win over the visiting Bulldogs.

Benefitting from a missed 31-yard field goal from The Citadel’s Ryan Sellers with 13 seconds remaining, and the Eagles kept their SoCon title hopes intact with the two point victory.

Georgia Southern, of course, went on to claim the 2011 Southern Conference title, finishing 11-3 and 7-1 in the league before having its season end with a 35-7 loss to eventual national champion North Dakota State in the FCS semifinals.

The Bulldogs enter the 2012 season off a 4-7 overall mark and a 3-5 record in conference last season. Despite close games in the series, Georgia Southern has owned the overall series between the two, holding a 17-4 all-time series edge.

The Citadel hasn’t tasted victory since Oct. 28, 2006, as the Bulldogs got a 24-21 win in 2006. Of the 21 meetings between the two programs, nine meetings have been decided by a TD or less.

Close games in this series, which began Georgia So. at The Citadel 2010 in 1988 in the FCS playoffs, have been a recent trend, as eight of the nine games decided by a TD or less have come since 2000.

Prior to 2000, the only meeting to be decided by a TD or less was the 1994 meeting, which The Citadel claimed with a 17-15 win in Charleston.

Five of the past six matchups between the two have been decided by less than a TD, with few soon to forget the 44-41 triple-overtime win by Georgia Southern in ‘08. Georgia Southern holds a 6-3 all-time edge in games played in Johnson Hagood Stadium in Charleston.

The Citadel will always represent a part of Georgia Southern football history, as the Bulldogs marked the first game the Eagles ever played as a Southern Conference football member in 1993.

The Eagles went on to the 16-6 victory.This season, the Eagles welcome the return of 15 starters for the 2012 season, while the Bulldogs have 16 starters back.

Both teams are back to running the triple option offense and both offenses were among the top rushing offenses in the nation last season. It’s rare to see a team open conference play with a loss and go on to win the league title.

In fact, since 1970 only three teams have lost their Southern Conference opener and gone on to at least claim a share of the league title.

William & Mary accomplished the feat in 1970 (Lost SoCon opener to The Citadel, 16-7), Georgia Southern in ‘02 (Lost SoCon opener to Wofford, 14-7) and Appalachian State in ‘07 (Lost SoCon opener to Wofford, 42-31).

The Bulldogs could be positioning themselves to be a darkhorse conference title and FCS playoff contender this fall. The Citadel completed the 2011 season with a 4-7 record, but lost five games by a total of 10 points last season.

Preview: Georgia Southern and The Citadel of course utilize the same offensive scheme, which means this game should be over in less than two hours. All kidding aside, recent history has shown that when these two teams meet, it means war.

Georgia Southern gave folks no reason to think that the Eagles wouldn't once again be the team to beat in the Southern Conference, as the Eagles made easy work of Pioneer league foe Jacksonville, 58-0, in the season opener at Allen E. Paulson Stadium.

The GSU offense was nothing short of explosive in the season opener, as the Eagles rolled up 558 yards, with all those yards coming on the ground.

The GSU offense looked much more potent this season under the direction of both Ezayi Youyoute and Jerick McKinnon, who helped pace that vaunted attack. Youyoute finished the game with a career high 164 yards and three TDs rushing, but was 0-for-8 passing. 

The Eagles have plenty of ground options, with the two best ground threats being fullback Dominique Swope and slotback Robert Brown.

Both Swope and Brown have rushed for 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons, and it was Swope that was solid once again running the football last Saturday, posting 104 yards and three TDs, on just 13 carries.

On a day when it was tough for the Eagles to find any daylight running the football in the 14-12 win over the Bulldogs last fall, it was Brown who led the rushing efforts for GSU, as he finished the day with 90 yards on 17 attempts.

Jonathan Bryant is a dual threat at slotback, as he was one of the leading receiving threats last season and he is explosive as a ground option on the perimeter for GSU. He will team with Darreion Robinson and Brian Wilcher on the outside. 

Kentrellis Showers (15 rec, 258 yds, 3 TDs, 17.2 YPR) is yet another explosive option at wideout heading into the SoCon opener. 

The GSU offensive line, which is yet again one of the best in the SoCon, is anchored by left tackle Dorian Byrd and veteran left guard Blake DeBartola. 

Manrey Saint-Amour is coming off a season which saw him garner SoCon All-Freshman honors last fall.

The GSU defense was a bit maligned last season, after returning 10 starters from a unit that ranked among the top 10 in the FCS in 2010, but only managed to rank sixth in total defense in the SoCon last fall. 

The Eagles made a statement in the opener, recording just the second shutout during head coach Jeff Monken's tenure (the last came against The Citadel, Oct. 23, 2010). The stingy GSU 4-2-5 defense limited the Dolphins to just 178 yards of total offense, including only 98 yards on the ground. 

Leading that GSU defense this fall is All-America nose tackle Brent Russell, who entered the season as a leading candidate for the Buck Buchanan Award. He only had one tackle last week, and he enters the 2012 season ranking fourth on the school's all-time sacks ledger, with 20.5 sacks in his career. 

Another player to keep an eye on as a part of what is one of the best defensive lines in the Southern Conference this fall is Dion DuBose, who sat out the 2011 season with an injury.

The Eagles are young at LB, but players like Quaun Daniels and Patrick Flowe are athletic and looked to be future stars on the GSU defense. Flowe finished second on the squad in tackles in last week's win, with four tackles and a sack, while Daniels added a pair of tackles. 

Much of the concern coming into the season defensively was quality depth at cornerback, and also concern surrounded on LaRon Scott's vacated cornerback position, but the unit didn't show any deficiencies in the season opener picking off three Dolphin passes.

One of the more intriguing story lines heading into the campaign is J.J. Wilcox, who is one of the best athletes on the team, and after serving as one of the Eagles' top offensive weapons each of the past two seasons, he started his first game on the defensive side of the ball at strong safety.

Wilcox made the most of his first start in the secondary, picking off his first career pass and adding three tackles.

Cornerback Valdon Cooper picked off a pass and returned it 60 yards for a score in his first start.

The Citadel figures to be a darkhorse in this year's Southern Conference race, and the Bulldogs opened the season with an easy 49-14 win over cross-town foe Charleston Southern, and looked impressive beginning their third season utilizing the triple-option offense. 

The Bulldogs rolled up nearly as many yards as the Eagles did in their opener against the Dolphins, as The Citadel completed the evening with 527 yards of total offense, including 479 of those yards coming on the ground. 

Much like GSU, the Bulldogs have the ability to play two quarterbacks, with Ben Dupree being the starter, while Aaron Miller could also see action on Saturday night, as he did in the opener and down the stretch last season. 

Both were effective in the win over the Buccaneers last Saturday. 

Dupree rushed 17 times for 77 yards and a pair of TDs, while Miller accounted for all of The Citadel's passing yards, connecting on 3-of-5 passes for 48 yards.

Miller was especially effective against GSU last season in the two-point loss, rushing for 80 yards and a TD on 19 attempts. 

Like GSU, the Bulldogs have a litany of explosive options on the ground, beginning with fullback Darien Robinson, who rushed for 120 yards and a TD on 12 carries in the opener.

Robinson led the GSU ground efforts last season against the Eagles, rushing for 92 yards and a score on nine carries. One of those attempts saw scamper 26 yards to give the Bulldogs a 6-0 lead early in the opening quarter. 

Another explosive ground option for the Bulldogs is slotback Rickey Anderson, who was solid in the season opening win, rushing for 80 yards and three scores on just 10 carries. Anderson could also be an explosive receiving option out of the backfield with his speed.

Former quarterback Matt Nelson and senior wideout Greg Adams are the Bulldogs' two best big-play options in the passing game. 

Experience also abounds on the offensive line for the Bulldogs, which returned four starters coming into the 2012 season. Anchoring that unit is arguably the top center in the SoCon, in junior Mike Sellers. This is a unit that helped the Bulldogs average 284 yards on the ground last season to rank second nationally in rushing offense.

Defense always seems to be a strength for Kevin Higgins coached teams and 2012 should see that trend continue.

With the likes of Derek Douglas and Chris Billingslea back to anchor one of the nation's top defensive lines. While Douglas is working his way back from an ACL injury in spring practice, it will be up to fellow bookend Billingslea to shoulder much of the load. Billingslea had a big impact in the season opening win over the Buccaneers, with a sack and a forced fumble.

Linebacker was a big question mark entering the 2012 season, losing both Tolu Akindele and Rod Harland to graduation. However, Rah Muhammad and Carson Smith were both solid in their first starts for the Bulldogs' defense, recording six tackles apiece in the win.

There were also question marks in the secondary, losing players like Joseph Boateng and Jeremy Buncum. But safety Austin Boyle and cornerback Brandon McCladdie were two of the veteran holdovers, and both were solid in last week's win.

Boyle notched his first INT of the season in last week's win.

The Bulldogs had plenty of success against the vaunted GSU offense last season, holding the Eagles to just 320 yards of total offense last season, with Appalachian State being the only team more successful at limiting the GSU attack during the regular season.

Final Prediction: This game will be one to watch and I think if someone is going to beat the Eagles in conference play this season, it has to be early on in the season.

The Bulldogs play the Eagles as good as any team in the league. Head coach Kevin Higgins is just 3-20 all-time against ranked foes, but did manage to notch one of those wins last season with the Bulldogs' 28-27 win over No. 15 Chattanooga in a game in which they trailed 27-0 in the third quarter.

This one should go the way of the Eagles, but it won't be easy!

31-28 Eagles 


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