Inside The Press Box: Georgia Southern

  • The home town crowd, seated on the east side of Warren McGuirk Alumni Stadium, watches the University of Massachusetts Minutemen take on Duquesne in their home-opener in Amherst on Saturday, August 25, 2018.

Staff Writer
Published: 9/6/2018 12:51:08 PM

The weekly chat with an opposing beat writer is back this week as UMass prepares to travel to Georgia Southern this weekend. The Eagles are coming off a 37-6 thrashing of South Carolina State last week in the season opener and have a different coach and two new coordinators than the squad that visited Amherst last year. 

Mike Anthony, the sports editor of the Statesboro Herald, was kind enough to answer a few questions about the Eagles for us this week. Here are the five questions I posed to him:

Q: The game between these two schools last year spelled the end of Tyson Summers' tenure as coach. How has this team changed since Chad Lunsford took over after last year's defeat to UMass?

A: The return of on-the-field success is still a work in progress, but Lunsford was able to win two of the six games he coached last season and the Eagles definitely looked like an improved team in a season-opening 37-6 win over South Carolina State last weekend. The biggest change is the overall atmosphere. Summers ran a very tight and scheduled ship, yet losses mounted and in-game mistakes (both with penalties and fundamentals) were a constant issue. Lunsford and his staff seem to have a much looser mentality around the locker room and practice facilities. They seem to be willing to have a little more fun so long as the results show up on Saturdays and the players held up their end with the win and only two penalties committed.

Q: How much do you feel we can learn from Saturday's win over South Carolina State?

A: The game against South Carolina State has Georgia Southern fans split. Many are happy to be 1-0 to begin the season and point to a great defensive effort that held the Bulldogs under 150 yards of total offense. Others are still concerned as there weren't a ton of explosive plays for the Eagle offense against an FCS squad that went 3-9 last season. The coaching staff was pretty positive, saying that there are things to clean up, but that very little of the full playbook was used and that the most important thing was to start with a win.

Q: Where has quarterback Shai Werts grown the most from last year?

A: Werts was definitely more decisive and determined with his reads and runs last week. In 2017, Werts showed flashes of great athleticism, but often looked unsure of himself. Some of his success is due to a better effort by the offensive line, but I think the main reason for the jump in production is having a full year of playing experience under his belt. During the postgame press conference, Werts kept referring to feeling "comfortable" in all of the situations he faced. If he continues to be comfortable as the offense opens up its playbook, he will be a solid quarterback moving forward.

Q: How equipped is Georgia Southern to handle the high-tempo passing attack UMass runs on offense?

A: The Eagles have good news and bad news for their matchup with the UMass passing attack. The good news is that Monquavian Brinson and Kindle Vildor might make up the best corner back tandem in the Sun Belt. And behind them, Josh Moon and Sean Freeman are both seeing plenty of action at safety for a third straight season. The negatives for Georgia Southern start with their new defensive scheme. The Eagles have a big and athletic front seven, but the new 3-4 alignment didn't have its linebackers' pass coverage abilities tested as South Carolina State only threw 10 times. Finally, there is the issue of replicating the UMass offense in practice. Much like many Eagle opponents have difficulty simulating an option quarterback, the Eagles don't have anyone with the arm to test the GS defensive backs with what they'll have to play against on Saturday.

Q: Georgia Southern will win if...

A: Georgia Southern will win if it can get consistent QB pressure without excessive blitzing. I think the offense will move it well enough to chew up clock and find the end zone a few times, but the Eagles won't win a track meet if UMass is hitting big pass plays downfield. If the Eagles can force hurried throws, the man coverage abilities of the secondary will make it harder for the Minutemen to break as many huge plays as last season.

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