Everywhere the Eagles went last season they were running. Forrest Gump ran so fast he outran cars and impressed “The Bear”. The Eagles ran so fast that they outran every other team in the FBS and impressed anyone who was paying attention.
Georgia Southern had two 1,000-yard rushers and three guys who ran for 12+ touchdowns and they all return. Unfortunately, the offensive line usually has at least as much impact on rushing success as the guy carrying the ball and there were some losses up front.
Matt Breida and QB Kevin Ellison make the option look every bit as impressive as their counterparts from Atlanta. Their style is a little different under Willie Fritz, as it’s a slightly more modern version of the spread option, but it still packs a punch. There are also some rumblings that the Eagles may be looking to open up the passing game a little more this season and they have the weapons to do it.
Even in limited passing attempts, Kevin Ellison’s numbers weren’t great last season, but he was a good enough runner to earn the vast majority of the snaps at QB anyway. He will need to improve this season, or risk being overtaken by Favian Upshaw, who put up decent numbers as the backup last season, albeit in a very small sample size.
If there’s one big thing standing in the way of this offense replicating last season’s outstanding results, it’s turnover up front. As mentioned before, the Eagles lost four starters in the offseason. Now, only LG Darien Foreman has more than two starts entering 2015. Two other players have two starts exactly and no one else has started a game. This group could mesh in time for the season and nobody would be shocked, but it may be a little more difficult than in previous years with more returning.
The defensive front does not face the same problem as the offense, fortunately. Of the 19 linebackers and defensive linemen who recorded at least one tackle last season, only three players don’t return. Edwin Jackson, the leading tackler of that group, will be tough to replace, but it helps that his replacement at middle linebacker Chris De La Rosa did see playing time in seven games last season. As for the line, nose tackle Jay Ellison will be a critical piece against the run with his massive 6’1” 305 pound frame.
In the secondary, there is pretty solid returning production as well. This group did a fine job making plays last season, but need to get a little stiffer in terms of just getting stops. Having both safeties return always helps, and these two were particularly productive. SS Antonio Glover was third on the team in tackles and managed an interception and a forced fumble. FS Matt Dobson was also disruptive with three interceptions and a forced fumble also.
Prediction: 9-3 Sun Belt co-champion
Georgia Southern has already proven that they are one of the stronger forces in the Sun Belt in only one year of play, but a brutal non-conference schedule will be touch to navigate. The Eagles lost to two ACC teams by a combined five points. It would be more than admirable if they could duplicate that with early season trips to West Virginia and Georgia, and a home date against Western Michigan, who if you read last week know is a strong MAC team. The conference schedule is manageable, but a road trip in October to Appalachian State could determine the conference champion.
Cover Photo Courtesy of Mike Kinnan/USA Today