When Jeff Monken said the Georgia Southern Eagles had bigger fish to fry after their narrow win over The Citadel last week, he was looking ahead.
He just may not have been peering down the road to the mighty Alabama Crimson Tide. Instead, that big fish are the Wofford Terriers, who host the Eagles on Saturday.
The stakes today at Spartanburg, S.C.’s Gibbs Stadium are high — the outright Southern Conference championship and the automatic Football Championship Subdivision playoff berth that accompanies it.
“We very feel fortunate to have an opportunity to play for a conference championship,” Monken said. “That’s what we hoped for, to have an opportunity.”
The Eagles, ranked No. 4 among FCS teams by the Sports Network poll, are 8-1 on the season and 6-1 in the SoCon. Wofford, ranked No. 9, is 5-1 in the league and 7-2 overall. A win would give Georgia Southern its first solo SoCon flag in nine years.
“It’s a goal on our board,” said senior cornerback LaRon Scott, “and right now, we’re in the right position to accomplish that goal. To be a senior and to have a chance win the SoCon championship, which hadn’t been done in a while, it means a lot.”
Said senior quarterback Jaybo Shaw: “One of our goals is to play for the Southern Conference championship, and we’re going to a get a chance to do that.”
Southern hasn’t been in a position to win a conference title this late in the season since 2007. They shared a conference crown in 2004.
After getting one of the last at-large bids last year for their first playoff appearance in five seasons, the Eagles want to secure their invitation much earlier this season.
“We know what’s at stake,” said senior cornerback Hudson Presume. “We know they’re going to be ready.”
Monken, even in the wake of last week’s 14-12 victory over The Citadel, wants more from his team and wants them to play better. He was ill at ease with the 191 rushing yards his option attack posted. The Eagles are one of the top two rushing offenses in FCS, averaging 323.8 yards per game. Wofford is No. 1 in rushing, at 374.2 yards per game.
After the win over The Citadel, Monken groused that the Eagles’ performance “wasn’t championship level football.”
“We have very high expectations in our program,” he said. “There are six flags hanging out there. There have been six teams here that have won a national championship. There are eight teams that have won conference championships. Those are the standards that have been set for this program. If we’re going to have expectations to accomplish those kinds of things, then our standards need to be a lot higher for the way we play.”
The Eagles stunned the Terriers 23-20 in last year’s FCS playoffs. They will have back in the lineup standout defensive tackle Brent Russell, who was suspended for The Citadel game. The junior, lovingly referred to as “Manbearpig” by many of the GSU faithful, is constantly double-teamed and triple-teamed by opposing offenses.
“Brent Russell is the backbone of our team,” said Blake Riley, who started in Russell’s stead. “We look up to him.”
Monken too is looking forward to getting Russell back on the field.
“He’s hard to get movement on,” the coach said. “He makes an impact on a football game. He’s disruptive. I think he’s one of the best defensive players in the nation at this level.”