Round 1 in college football’s newest rivalry went convincingly to Georgia Southern on Saturday.
Rushing for a Sun Belt Conference-record 613 yards, the Eagles flattened Georgia State 69-31 at the Georgia Dome in the first game between the two schools, dubbed #ModernDayHate on twitter.
Georgia State (1-7, 0-5 Sun Belt) players said all week they needed to maintain discipline against Georgia Southern’s option attack. Instead, those players could do nothing right in giving up the most points in a game in school history and often not getting a finger on Eagles runners on a few of their 10 rushing touchdowns.
Georgia Southern (6-2, 5-0), statistically the best rushing team in Division I, averaged 9.7 yards per rush in pushing Georgia State’s front seven all around the field. Running back Matt Breida led the Eagles with four touchdowns and 201 yards rushing, while quarterback Kevin Ellison added 115 yards and a touchdown. Six Eagles scored at least one touchdown.
“Defensively it’s an unacceptable performance by us,” Georgia State coach Trent Miles said. “We didn’t give ourselves a chance.”
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Linebacker Trey Payne said the Eagles didn’t do anything that he and his teammates hadn’t practiced against. The Panthers simply failed to execute.
“We got embarrassed at home, that’s about it,” Payne said.
The result thrilled the more than 10,000 Georgia Southern fans who tried their best to fulfill athletic director Tom Kleinlein’s wish to turn the Dome into Paulson North this week. Wearing white shirts, they were so loud it often seemed as if the game were being played in Statesboro.
Georgia Southern coach Willie Fritz said he didn’t try to treat the significance of the game differently than any other.
“If you take certain games as more important, you will have highs and lows, which is not the way to do it,” Fritz said. “It was great playing in the Dome in front of a great Georgia Southern crowd, but I honestly do not care about that stuff.”
The result reflected the maturity, depth and ability to execute by a Georgia Southern program that won six national championships on the FCS level before moving up to FBS, where they are in the second year of a two-year transition. Compare that with the lack of wins, depth and ability to execute on defense by a Georgia State program that is in its fifth season and has less than 60 healthy players on scholarship.
Miles referenced some of those points in his postgame news conference, but still said he didn’t see this coming. It was the second poor performance by the defense in three games after Arkansas State rolled up 618 yards in a 52-10 win two weeks ago.
“We’ll go back to work tonight as a staff and see if we can give them something they can execute,” Miles said.
Leading 27-17 after a first half that featured one punt by each team, Breida ran 75 yards on the first play of the second half to give the Eagles a 17-point advantage. He took the pitch to the right, and no one was there to attempt to tackle him as he motored down the sideline.
After forcing a Georgia State punt, the Eagles scored again on a 1-yard run by Breida to build a 41-17 lead and take any surprise out of the result early in the second half.
The outcome overshadowed a record-setting day for Georgia State wide receiver Donovan Harden, who set school records for touchdowns (four) and yards (186) and tied a school record for receptions (11).
The game ended with Georgia Southern’s fans chanting “G-S-U” as the few Georgia State students remaining in the stands made their way to the field for a promotional cash drop, further illustrating the emotional disconnect that seems to exist between the student body and a football team that has a lot of work to do before next week’s game at Appalachian State.
“It’s unacceptable to give up 69 points,” Miles said. “Again, give Georgia Southern credit. They have an excellent rushing offense, the No. 1 rushing offense there is. It’s just unacceptable in this program.”