Georgia Southern 2016 Defensive Preview

Robert George

We’re continuing our 2016 football season preview with a breakdown of Georgia Southern’s defense.

All stats compiled from ESPN, NCAA and GS Athletics databases. 

What type of defense will the Eagles run?

The Eagles will employ a four-down scheme, which basically means there will be four defensive linemen on most snaps. Behind them will be three linebackers, two cornerbacks and a pair of safeties. 

Obviously, the formations and schemes will vary based on the offense their opponent’s run. Teams like Georgia State, Troy, South Alabama and Idaho throw the ball a lot, meaning we’ll probably see more cornerbacks and safeties and less linebackers and nose tackles. When the Eagles go against New Mexico State and star running back Larry Rose III, they could stack the box more.

One thing to watch is the reunion of head coach Tyson Summers and newly hired defensive coordinator Lorenzo Constantini. The two last coached together at the University of Central Florida, where they put together a top 25 defense in 2014. 

“I really think that they have an opportunity to be one of the best defenses in the country, and we’ll try to put our stamp on it,” Summers said. 

Defensive Line- Experience and talent collide

Outside of running back, this position may boast the most talent on GS’s roster. Seniors Jay EllisonBernard Dawson and Jamal Johnson will anchor a front line that should create a lot of problems on opposing offenses this season. 

Ellison is fantastic at taking on multiple linemen and clogging up gaps at nose tackle. Dawson is probably the best pass rusher on the team, and will have plenty of opportunities to get to the quarterback in the pass-happy Sun Belt. 

Another player to watch is Jonathan Battle Jr. The redshirt senior was out all last season with injuries, but started in five games in the 2014 season. He will be ready to get back on the field and a chance to contribute immediately.

Darrius SappLogan Hunt, and GoDaddy Bowl Defensive MVP Nardo Govan will provide depth to form a vicious rotation up front. Being able to go seven or eight players deep will help everyone stay fresh throughout the game. 

“We want to set the tone. We want to make the plays first. We want to get the defense going every day,” Sapp said. “We’re together as a unit.” 

Linebackers- A two-headed monster

These guys are going to make a lot of plays for the Eagles. With the talented line taking out blockers and blowing up offenses, the linebackers will be the ones making the plays and holding the line. 

Senior Ironhead Gallon will return after an outstanding 2015 campaign. He finished second on the team with 81 total tackles and also blocked a few punts on special teams. He’s the unofficial face of the team, and certainly one of its most important players. He’ll be in-charged of calling the plays and making them, which is what he watched former teammate and current Detroit Lions rookie Antwione Williams do last season. 

Ukeme Eligwe will also be making his return to the gridiron after two long years away from it. The former four-star recruit out of Stone Mountain, Ga. will step into the role that Williams thrived so well in last season. He has a good frame and is explosive and athletic enough to make just about any play on the field. He’ll also be an asset in defending against the pass with his speed. 

“I’m about to leave all my stress, my anger, my emotions, everything in these last two years,” Eligwe said. “I’m back and ready to play the game I love.” 

Chris DeLaRosa and William Bussey will man the other linebacker spot in the 4-3 base defense. Both guys saw a lot of game action last season and should be able to run free all over the field while offenses game plan around Eligwe and Gallon. 

Secondary-Youth Movement

This is the team’s biggest question mark coming into the season on either side of the ball. While the aggressive front seven should put pressure on opposing QB’s, teams will test the young secondary early and often to see if they can land some big plays. 

Senior Darius Jones is the only returning cornerback who saw major action last season, and he’ll be expected to make the transition from nickel to every-down starter. He brings a lot of experience, having played in 35 games during his GS career. He’ll be asked to anchor what will be a very young and green secondary. 

“I’ve taken a lot of leadership qualities from the guys that played last year. I feel like we’re going to be good,” Jones told GSAthletics.  

Freshman Monquavion Brinson was one of the jewels of the top recruiting classes in the Sun Belt and should get some work opposite of Jones. He was the No. 38 cornerback in the country and hopefully will mature nicely in his first year.

RJ Murray has experience playing in the Sun Belt and should see game time again this year. Rayquan SamJesse Liptrot and Christian Matthew will also be thrown into the fray in the hopes some will develop into every down players.

Gone are multi-year starters at safety in Matt Dobson and Antonio Glover. And while it’s still not set who’ll replace them in the first unit, there are plenty of candidates.

Senior Vegas Harley certainly has a chance after switching over from quarterback. Summers has praised about his talent and IQ; now it’s just about picking up the ins and outs of the position quick enough to hold off some of the younger guys. 

Joshua Moon and Robert Brice both played at the position last season and are likely to see time again. Sean Freeman was an all-conference safety at Eastern Arizona last season and figures to mix in as well. 

Specialists-Who replaces Keaton?

Summers rose through the coaching ranks as a special teams coordinator, and he takes a lot of pride in it at GS. It’s been a major focus in spring practice and fall camp.

“From a special teams standpoint, the way you wind up winning games is being fundamentally sound and not making mistakes and not letting it hurt you,” Summers said.

Derek Keaton made a name for himself in the return game last season. He averaged 26 yards a return and often gave the offense good field position. Keaton graduated, meaning someone has a chance to step in and fill that production. Montay Crockett has returned kicks in the spring and will likely get first crack at it against SSU. 

Younghoe Koo will return as the primary place-kicker and kick-off specialist. He nailed 7-9 field goals and put 45 of his 67 kickoffs in the end zone for touchbacks. 

It’s likely that Koo and Matt Flynn will share punting duties until one of them separates themselves as the better option. Tyler Bass also has a chance to get on the field after a good offseason. 

Photo courtesy of Mick Miller and James Harker.