1. Three quarterbacks have significant pass attempts this season. What's behind that, who should we see Saturday, and what are their strengths and weaknesses through the air?
I'll try to keep this short. We have a new coach this year in Tyson Summers, former defensive coordinator at UCF and Colorado State. Our old head coach, Willie Fritz, left for Tulane and a raise in the offseason. Summers came in, apparently decided the team needs a strongly revamped offense with more passing and, basically, chaos has ensued.
Favian Upshaw and Kevin Ellison (a major player in Georgia Southern's win over Florida back in 2013) are both seniors and have shared the QB position for the past two seasons. They are fantastic runners but don't throw all that well. They were recruited to run an option offense after all.
The third quarterback, freshman Seth Shuman, came over because his old high school coach is now Southern's co-offensive coordinator (stay with me here) and supposedly he's familiar with our new offense. Upshaw and Ellison have both struggled with injuries, and with the new scheme in general, leading the powers that be to give Shuman a shot.
He certainly throws the ball hard and with confidence, but so far has three interceptions against zero touchdowns. Like I said, it's chaos.
Upshaw is doubtful due to injury, so you should mostly see Ellison playing with an occasional Shuman drive.
2. Obviously there's a strong running game at GA Southern. How does the team recruit for its system? What types of offensive linemen is it going after? Backs?
Glad you asked. Southern does have a strong running game, which has been its identity for about three decades. However, it seems like every second or third head coach that comes in says "Y'all, I've got an idea... what if we start passing more?"
That seems to be the case with Summers. The idea has not worked out well in the past, and doesn't seem to be going any better this time around.
Exhibit A: There was a nine-drive stretch in last week's loss to App State than went punt, punt, punt, INT, punt, punt, INT, punt punt. The offense had 52 total yards early in the fourth quarter.
I think the coaches still want to run more, but co-offensive coordinators David Dean and Rance Gillespie are both pass-first guys. Their background is not in the option and it shows.
Traditionally, Georgia Southern would recruit shorter, smaller, faster players overlooked by Ole Miss and other A-list programs. This would be the case for both skill position players and offensive linemen. I'm not sure what the recruiting strategy is under the current regime, but I'm sort of hoping Summers dumps this scheme anyway to bring back Option U.
3. How would you attack the GA Southern defense?
Our defense has been much more stable, on par with last year for the most part. You may be surprised how well the front four holds up against the run, and Southern's linebackers are also a strong unit.
Ole Miss will want to attack the secondary. There's talent there as well, but basically the entire unit is new this year, and mostly underclassmen. Chad Kelly may put up some big numbers.
4. Who is a defensive player who could make a difference in the game? Offensive player you haven't already named?
Not sure if he'll make a difference in the outcome, but definitely be on the lookout for linebacker Ukeme Eligwe. He's a Florida State transfer and former four-star recruit who's having a monster season. I don't watch much NFL but I'd say he's got a good shot at the league.
Here's a quick highlights package from last week, a performance which earned Eligwe Sun Belt defensive player of the week honors.
Another linebacker to watch is Ironhead Gallon. He's as fun to watch as the name suggests.
On offense, the running back trio of Matt Breida, LA Ramsby and Wesley Fields are all great players. It's just a matter of getting them some blocks.
5. What's your prediction? Give a score and how it gets there.
If this were last year or the year before, I'd tell you with a straight face that Georgia Southern might win the game. This year? Um, no.
The 27.5-point spread sounds about right. The Eagle defense is good enough to keep it close-ish at halftime, but the Rebels pull away at some point.
38-10 Ole Miss.