Today we examine the Clemson Tigers’ (2-0) third game of the season, as they play host to the Georgia Southern Eagles (2-0), who finished last season with a 2-10 record (2-6 Sun Belt). It will be the first meeting in the history of the two schools.
Th Eagles enter the season under the leadership of first-year head coach Chad Lunsford, who went 2-4 last season as the school’s interim head coach.
While the Eagles have experimented over the last few seasons with their offensive identity, Lunsford promised the fan base, and the administration, that he would get back to what the Eagles did so well during the glory days of the Paul Johnson era when they won two FCS national titles — run the triple option.
Even though this is the biggest game in the history of the school, Lunsford is not making the game bigger than it is.
“Being an ACC opponent, being the No.2 team in the nation, obviously there’s a lot of excitement around that, but we don’t approach games any differently,” Lunsford said. “We have our plan to win and that’s what we do every week. We have a process and we know what we need to do to win a football game. We’re not going to change that.
"Obviously, we get excited about this game, but we get excited about every game.”
Eagles on offense
The Eagles will get back to their roots of running the football in 2018 as Lunsford went out of his way to hire Bob DeBesse from New Mexico after their offensive explosion in recent years.
Last season, the Eagles averaged only 20.8 points per game and 332.3 yards per game. However, they have had some success since making the jump to the FBS level of play in 2014.
In fact, the first two seasons as an FBS program, the Eagles led the nation in rushing yards and amassed an impressive 17-7 record.
The talent level at Georgia Southern will be a difficult hurdle for the coaches to climb in their first season, as the team managed plays of 30 yards or more only 14 times in all of 2017 — 114th in the FBS.
The Eagles do have some dynamic playmakers on the offensive side of the ball, with the most exciting being senior back Wesley Fields — who led the Eagles with 811 rushing yards.
More impressive than the play of Fields has been the play of quarterback Shai Werts, who was offered a scholarship from the Clemson coaching staff, but chose to attend Georgia Southern.
“Their quarterback is their best player, and he’s from Newberry. He’s a kid we offered," Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said during his press conference Tuesday. "He’s a really, really good athlete, (Shai) Werts. We offered him as an athlete, he wanted to go play quarterback at Georgia Southern. He’s their leading rusher, leading scorer — he just does an unbelievable job for them.”
Eagles on defense
The defensive unit for the Eagles will also be under new leadership for the 2018 season as Lunsford has handed over the reins to first year coordinator Scot Sloan — who spent the last nine seasons at Appalachian State.
The defense for the Eagles should keep them in a number of games as it returns 16 of their top 17 tacklers back from last season’s squad.
With five returning starters in the secondary and three of the front four defensive linemen back, the Eagles should get enough pressure to make some noise in the Sun Belt this season—the Tigers just hope it is not this week.
“In the Furman game, I felt like they had more experience on the offensive side of the ball, and this is just the opposite—they have 11 guys that have started at least three games,” Swinney said. “They have a whole lot of guys that have played a whole lot of football. They’ve got some thumpers that will flat get after you on D.”