Previewing the 2021 Georgia Southern football season


DJ Cadden, Sports Editor

On Saturday, the Georgia Southern Eagles will take the football field for the first time in 251 days as they take on the Gardner-Webb Bulldogs.

Following a dominant victory in the R+L Carriers Bowl to conclude the 2020 season, the Eagles look to carry their momentum into a successful 2021 campaign.

The GS schedule is highlighted by three visits from teams who finished last season within the top-25 of the AP poll: Louisiana, Coastal Carolina and BYU.

Previewing the GS offense

The Eagle offense will look vastly different in 2021. For the first time since 2016, Shai Werts will not be the starting quarterback for Chad Lunsford’s team.

Justin Tomlin has studied under Werts for the last three seasons and taken snaps when the former Eagle was injured. However, due to academic issues, Tomlin will miss the first two games of the season. In addition, backup Connor Cigelske will be sidelined until at least October due to a leg injury.

The absence of Tomlin leaves a massive question mark at the quarterback position. Among the candidates to begin the season are true freshman Cam Ransom, Sam Kenerson and running back Amare Jones.

All three have seen meaningful snaps throughout spring and fall practices, but none of the three have started a game for GS as quarterback.

“I definitely know what we’re going to do, but not letting that be known publicly,” said Lunsford. “I think, obviously, we’ll have the best guy out there for the game on Saturday. It will be good for our offense.”

Werts was not the only departure from the 2020 offense, as the firing of offensive coordinator Bob DeBesse allowed for Doug Ruse to take control of the offensive play calling.

Ruse, who served as the OC for the Eagles during the 2014 and 2015 seasons, will maintain the option offense; however, Ruse tends to run a “gun option” that calls for more passing than the usual GS offense.

Despite losing a few guys at wide receiver, GS brought in Derwin Burgess and Jjay Mcafee to replace what was lost on the perimeter.

Despite a sense of enthusiasm from the coaching staff, the Eagle offense will likely suffer through some growing pains during the 2021 season.

Previewing the GS defense

Just like previous seasons, the defense will be the calling card of the Georgia Southern football team. Despite the loss of stars such as Raymond Johnson III and Rashad Byrd, the Eagle defense has a high level of continuity entering the 2021 season.

Cornerback Derrick Canteen garnered numerous All-American selections for his level of play last year and will headline the GS secondary this season. Veterans Darrell Baker Jr., Justin Birdsong and Anthony Wilson, who have combined for 31 starts at GS, will also hold down the defensive backfield.

The linebacking group will look to be a strength for the Eagles this season, even after the loss of veteran Todd Bradley-Glenn. Randy Wade Jr., Benz Josue and Tre Allen have combined for 45 starts throughout the previous five seasons. Marques Watson-Trent has been thoroughly impressive throughout the offseason, according to Lunsford.

A slew of familiar names return on the defensive line. Dillon Springer, C.J. Wright and Justin Ellis were named the starters by Lunsford on Monday. The trio have all started in at least five games, with many of them coming during the 2021 season.

Predicting Georgia Southern’s 2021 record

With a strong defense and a list of unknowns on offense, the Eagles are a difficult team to predict this season In the modern world of college football, offense has seemingly become more important than the defensive side of the ball.

While Tomlin will miss the first two games of the season, the Eagles have a load of talent at the quarterback position. However, new starters under center tend to result in a lot of early struggles.

The defense will be good enough to win a handful of games, but the offense will hold the Eagles back this season. While not a rebuilding year, GS will have to get used to adjusting on the fly as they install a new offense and try to replace Werts.

DJ’s record prediction for the 2021 season: 6-6