The campus of West Virginia offered a true taste of what fall football is all about. The mountains, tailgates and fans decked out in West Virginia gear was a sight to see. An even better sight to see, Georgia Southern’s True Blue fans who made the journey to root on their 2015-2016 Eagles as they took the field to battle the Mountaineers. This was the first time the Eagles played the Mountaineers and first time ever competing against a Big 12 opponent.
The Eagles captains for the defense were defensive end Lennie Richardson and cornerback Darrius White. Upon winning the coin toss, the Eagles would select the defend and the Eagles defense would lead the charge against the Mountaineers offense. As the Eagles defense took the field, they appeared energetic and ready to do battle with the Mountaineers offense deep in their own territory on their own 13 yard line.
Up front, the Eagles defensive line wanted to cause havoc lightening up the strain on the linebackers and the secondary. However, they were significantly challenged by the Mountaineers offensive line. The starting defensive line was: Bernard Dawson (DE), Jamal Johnson (DT), Jay Ellison (NT) and Lennie Richardson (DE). The Mountaineers rushing game was held to 185 yards on the ground on 40 carries for an average of 4.6 yards per carry. The leading rusher for the Mountaineers was running back Wendell Smallwood. Smallwood rushed for 96 yards on 11 carries for an average of 8.7 yards per carry. The Eagles defensive line gave up three touchdowns to three different running backs. Wendell Smallwood, Rushell Shell and William Crest Jr. each found their way through the defensive line to the end zone one time. The only defensive lineman to record sacks was Bernard Dawson for 1.5 sacks. One of which caused quarterback Skyler Howard an intentional grounding penalty. Between the seven defensive linemen that played throughout the game their average was 1.5 tackles. Furthermore, this gave the Mountaineers the opportunity to more easily run and throw the ball and place a heavier strain on the linebackers and secondary.
In the middle, the linebackers needed to play both the run and the pass more equally because of the lack of pressure from the defensive line. The starting linebackers were: Antwione Williams, Deshawntee Gallon and Chris DeLaRosa. Throughout the game the linebackers were having problems keeping up with both the running and passing game. In particular, the Eagles faced a significant amount of passing and had trouble slowing it down.
“It was a team thing. They had a lot of deep plays against us. It’s our job to apply pressure to the quarterback,” Williams said.
However, Williams and Gallon would come second and third in tackles on the night. Williams recorded four solo tackles and four assisted tackles for a total of eight tackles. Gallon recorded the same and 0.5 of a sack for a loss of three yards. In addition, Williams recorded a fourth down stop about half way through the first quarter. DeLaRosa would record only one tackle. Williams and Gallon were playing well throughout the game but needed DeLaRosa to step up and play at their level. Between the four linebackers that played throughout the game their average was 4.5 tackles. Besides Williams and Gallon, they weren’t given a break and faced a challenging offensive opponent throughout the game.
The secondary would bear most of the burden of playing the Mountaineer offense. In doing so, they looked gassed and outmanned against this “Air-Raid” style of offense. The starting secondary was: Darius White (LC), Matt Dobson (FS), Antonio Glover (SS) and Caleb Williams (RC). Mountaineers quarterback Skyler Howard completed 16-of-25 passes for 325 yards. In addition, two Mountaineer receivers recorded over 100 receiving yards. Shelton Gibson recorded three receptions for 130 yards and a touchdown and Javon Durante recorded three receptions for 121 yards and a touchdown. Daikiel Shorts recorded three receptions for 55 yards and Jordan Thompson recorded three receptions for 30 yards. The three longest passes were two for 57 yards and one for 26 yards.
“They’re a good football team,” Dobson said. “I didn’t play good enough. I don’t know if anybody did.”
However, Dobson felt there was a lot to learn from being beat by a talented offense like the Mountaineers displayed in full offensive force. Dobson would lead in tackles for the secondary with eight total tackles. White and Williams would only combine for three total tackles.
“When you’re playing three deep and you have a guy get behind you, that’s a lack of execution. We had a lack of execution. We gave up too many deep passes,” Coach Fritz said.
The Eagles were able to keep the Mountaineers to 16 in the first half. In addition, the Mountaineers were able to get in the Eagles’ 20-yard line four times in the first half and were only able to score nine points. Howard would only throw for one touchdown but threw for 246 yards. However, the Eagles would trail 16-0 at the end of the first half. Howard would only throw for one touchdown and 113 yards in the second half. However, the Mountaineers recorded three rushing touchdowns and a passing touchdown in the second half to put the game away. The Eagles looked determined to stop the Mountaineers offense but couldn’t keep pace in Milan Puskar Stadium.
This was the first time the Eagles had been kept from scoring since a 45-0 loss playing Montana in the 1995 I-AA playoffs. With that being said, the Eagles have some work to do both offensively and defensively. Defensively, the Eagles need to bounce back and prepare for another offense that likes to pass the ball. Western Michigan will be a difficult opponent just like West Virginia but this time the game will be played in Paulson Stadium. The Eagles look to rally back and continue improving both mentally and physically on the defensive side of the ball.
“We’ll move on because that’s the way you’ve got to do it. You don’t want this game to beat you twice. We have a quality opponent we’re playing next weekend, Coach Fritz