Sun Belt

Georgia Southern Eagles Football Preview 2016

Georgia Southern football preview for 2016, including keys to success for the Eagles, best players and season prediction.

10 Georgia Southern Players To Know

Willie Fritz was able to keep Georgia Southern a powerhouse rushing program, and now the transition of power has to keep the production going.

This was the team best known for shocking Florida late in the 2013 season before making the jump up to the FBS world, and then it took the Sun Belt by storm with a devastating running attack good enough to win nine games in back-to-back seasons.

Fritz was able to parlay the success into the Tulane job, and now it’s up to Tyson Summers to try to do even more.

36 by the time the season starts, Summers is a young, talented prospect who knows Georgia, knows the program a wee bit – he was a safeties coach in 2006 – and is considered a high-riser. But he’s also a bit of a guess, considering his resume highlights are the UCF defensive coordinator in 2014 and Colorado State’s DC last season.

But he’s going to keep the running attack and the style that made Georgia Southern so strong, and he’s going to try making the defense even better after it finished 21st in the nation last season was so amazing outside of three puzzling clunkers to West Virginia, Appalachian State and Georgia State.

The defensive front seven only loses one starter and should be a killer, and it’ll have to be with the entire secondary gone. Fortunately, there’s no one on the schedule who can throw a forward pass until the fourth game of the year against Western Michigan.

The nation’s No. 1 ground game gets all the fun back with RB Matt Breida returning for his final year and with Kevin Ellison and Favian Upshaw two devastating running quarterbacks who need to be on the field at the same time. In all, eight starters return – the O is going to work.

After a Sun Belt title in 2014, a nine-win season and a dominant bowl win over MAC champion Bowling Green in 2015, the machine is in place. The pressure is on Summers to make it all go.

What You Need To Know About The Georgia Southern Offense

Not much, if anything, is going to change. The Eagles finished first in the nation in rushing averaging 363 yards per game, but the passing game didn’t really work. Offensive coordinators Rance Gillespie and David Dean will try to get a bit more through the air, and they have the quarterbacks to do it with Kevin Ellison and Favian Upshaw back. The triple option will still be alive and kicking helped by a good line with three starters returning including both tackles. The passing game? It’ll be along for the ride, but at least the top two receivers – B.J. Johnson and Myles Campbell – are back.

Biggest Key To The Georgia Southern Offense
Will the new coaching staff try to do more for the passing game? The triple option rushing attack isn’t going anywhere, but one of the keys to the offense is taking advantage of the big plays there for the taking down the field. The Eagles were at least efficient at times throwing it in 2014, but last season the quarterbacks struggled way too much with their accuracy – hitting just 43% of their passes – with four touchdown passes and ten interceptions. More importantly, there weren’t any home runs. There has to be the threat of a deep ball.

What You Need To Know About The Georgia Southern Defense

Head coach Tyson Summers is a defensive coach by trade, but this will be Lorenzo Costantini’s D after working with George O’Leary and UCF. The D that finished 21st in the nation returns nasty up front with all four starters back on the line and the linebackers coming back strong despite the loss of all-star Antwione Williams. The problem? The secondary is all but starting over with a trial by fire coming.

Biggest Key To The Georgia Southern Defense
The secondary has to be a rock, even though most of the key parts are gone. Darius Jones was a key nickel defender, but 13 of the 15 picks coming from the defensive backs are gone. For the most part, when the Eagles got ripped up by opposing passing games, they lost having big issues with West Virginia, Appalachian State, Georgia and Georgia State. All four of those teams completed 60% or more of their passes – GSU was 8-1 when giving up under 60%.

Georgia Southern Will Be Far Better If …

The punting game isn’t needed. How can you tell Georgia Southern isn’t rolling? It’s punting. The offense is so efficient and so effective, either it’s rolling and putting up big numbers, or it’s in a great position to go for it on fourth downs – converting 20-of-31 tries. Last year, GSU only punted more than four times in four games – and lost them all.

Best Georgia Southern Offensive Player

RB Matt Breida, Sr. – Everyone gets to have fun running the ball in the Georgia Southern offense, but Breida was the speedster who helped make it all go. Others ran well, and the quarterbacks did their part, but it was the 5-11, 190-pound veteran from Florida who came up with the big hits averaging close to eight yards per pop for 1,608 yards and 17 scores. In the mix for the Doak Walker Award last year, now he’ll be front-and-center.

Best Georgia Southern Defensive Player

DE Bernard Dawson, Sr. – The line was good last year, and it should be special this season with all four starters back up front. Jay Ellison is a rock at one tackle, and there should be a good rotation overall, but it’s Dawson who’s the most dangerous playmaker earning all-star honors showing tremendous quickness around the end. The numbers might not be fantastic, but he’s got the skills to go to a whole other level with the players around him.

Key Player To A Successful Season

WR B.J. Johnson, Sr. – Several defensive backs need to step up and shine, and the offense could use two steady guards, but the difference this season might be the passing attack and the ability to open up the offense that much more. This is always going to be a running team, but someone needs to make things happen down the field. Johnson only saw time in nine games, but he still led the team with 15 catches for 249 yards averaging 16.6 yards per grab. He and junior Myles Campbell need to do more.

The Georgia Southern Season Will Be A Success If …

It wins the Sun Belt title. As good as last year was with a nine-win season and a bowl victory, it also clunked in conference play with blowout losses to Appalachian State and Georgia State. With all the experience returning and all the talent back for the running game, winning the Sun Belt championship is a must even with nasty games at home against Louisiana-Lafayette and Appalachian State, and on the road against …

Key game

Oct. 10 at Arkansas State – It’s been one of the Sun Belt’s biggest issues over the last two years that two of the top programs haven’t faced each other. This year, the Eagles have to face defending Sun Belt champion Arkansas State on the road on a key Wednesday night game to set the tone for the rest of the conference slate. A win puts GSU in the driver’s seat for the title – at least going into the Appalachian State game in late October.

2015 Georgia Southern Fun Stats

– Rushing Yards: Georgia Southern 4,719 – Opponents 1,702
– Sacks: Georgia Southern 22 for 148 yards – Opponents 8 for 51
– Passing Touchdowns: Opponents 22 – Georgia Southern 4