The Eagle defense is up to the challenge this weekend

Ethan Flynn

The highly anticipated 2015-2016 football season is nearly here for the Georgia Southern Eagles. In two days’ time, the Eagles plan to shut down the West Virginia Mountaineers offense from the opening whistle. Considering this is the first game of the season, the Eagles are looking more than capable of taking the field defensively to “GATA” in primetime form. After a legendary season last year, the Eagles are poised to once again win the Sun Belt Championship.

Last season, the Mountaineers ranked 13th in the FBS with total offense, averaging almost 500 yards per game. With the opportunity to play a solid offensive Big 12 school like WVU, this is once again a proving ground for why the Eagles are more than capable of contending with the “big dogs” and how they can easily show them up at Milan Puskar Stadium. However, this will be no easy task for the Eagles defense. Last season, the Mountaineers demonstrated their capability of scoring against some of the better competition they played. For example, the Mountaineers played the University of Alabama their first game and scored1 23 points. They would lose the game by a mere 10 points, 33-23 but threw the football for 365 yards.

As far as the rushing game goes for the Mountaineers, they tallied up 2,376 yards the ground and 4.2 yards per carry. Running back Wendell Smallwood was credited with 722 yards rushing and looks to do the same, if not better, this year. On the Mountaineers offensive line, they’ve got the size. The leader of the offensive line this year is 6-foot-4, 297-pound center, Tyler Orlosky. However, their best offensive lineman is 6-foot-5, 312-pound left tackle, Adam Pankey. The rest of their offensive line is relatively inexperienced and presents a weakness for the Eagles defensive line to attack. In particular, from the defensive tackle positions, Jamal Johnson and Jay Ellison will be looking to apply pressure on the inside. On the outside, from the defensive end positions, Bernard Dawson and Lennie Richardson will look to make it past the offensive line to force some sacks to slow down the passing game. Behind the big men, from the linebacker positions, Antwione Williams and DeShawntee Gallon look to prevent the rushing game from getting past the second level. Chris DeLaRosa also looks to make a contribution as well.

Considering the passing game was the best aspect of the Mountaineers offensive game plan last year, the Eagles secondary will have to make big time stops to prevent the points from racking up. The Mountaineers offense was credited with 4,121 passing yards on last season. At the Mountaineers quarterback position this season will be first-year starting junior, Skyler Howard. In four games last season, Howard was credited with 829 yards passing and 8 passing touchdowns. The Mountaineers veteran wide receiver to watch will be Jordan Thompson. The other wide receivers, Shelton Gibson and Daikiel Shorts, are potential threats as well.

The Eagles safeties, Matt Dobson and Antonio Glover, will look to disrupt the wide receivers from ever getting on track in the “air-raid” offense WVU Coach Holgorsen implements. Also looking to play a major role, from the corner positions, Darrius White and Caleb Williams, will need to step up and play to their best abilities.

The entire Eagles defense is looking forward to the opportunity of proving they can play consistently at the FBS 1-A level. The Eagles ranked 49th against the run and 59th overall in FBS play. Led by defensive coordinator, Coach Jack Curtis, the experience that he has in primetime situations will prove invaluable as he begins another season with the Eagles. As far as the defense goes, the Eagles are looking healthy and have lots of depth at every positon.With all things considered, the Eagles defense has a really solid chance to make primetime plays and shut down the Mountaineer offense. Yes, the Mountaineers are a more recognized team, but it doesn’t matter when it comes to Georgia Southern football. We will play any opponent, anywhere, at any time. Looking back on a couple of the big games last season, I wanted to further reiterate what I previously mentioned; we’re an FBS 1-A caliber team. Senior defensive lineman Lennie Richardson had this to say about the defense, “We’re sound. We’re trying to build off what we built last year. We went to continue making improvements and be the best defense in the conference.” Come Saturday, the Eagles defense will march into Mountaineer Country proving why they’re once again touted to win the Sun Belt Championship.