Scouting report: Georgia Southern

ATHENS, Ga. -- Georgia’s every-four-years series with Georgia Southern continues Saturday, with the lower-division Eagles ready to serve as a thorn in the Bulldogs’ side yet again.

Georgia (9-1) is a perfect 4-0 against the FCS powerhouse Eagles (8-2), but Georgia Southern is known for making the Bulldogs work for the victory. In fact, they scored 28 and 21 points in two games (2004 and 2008) against Georgia since Mark Richt became the Bulldogs’ coach.

The Bulldogs are taking this game more seriously than their average matchup against an FCS opponent, practicing in full pads on a rainy Monday evening in order to begin preparing for the cut-blocking element to the Eagles’ flexbone rushing attack.

Record: 8-2 (6-2 SoCon)

Coach: Jeff Monken, third season (29-10)

Series record: Georgia leads 4-0

Top players: QB Jerick McKinnon (156 carries, 1,053 yards, 11 TDs), FB Dominique Swope (134-827, 14 TDs), LB John Stevenson (83 tackles, 1.5 tackles for a loss, two fumble recoveries, two forced fumbles), DE Javon Mention (21 tackles, 8.5 TFLs, 6.5 sacks, one fumble recovery)

Scouting the offense: The Eagles’ flexbone rushing attack is in its typical form, leading the FCS in rushing yards per game (401.2), yards per carry (6.7) and rushing touchdowns (42). And Georgia Southern is coming off their biggest point total -- 69 points in last Saturday’s win against Howard -- since 2001. Georgia has seen the same general scheme in each of the previous four seasons when facing Paul Johnson’s Georgia Tech option offense -- an attack that Monken learned well under Johnson during stops at Georgia Southern, Navy and Georgia Tech. So Georgia knows what it must do Saturday, it’s just a matter of doing it successfully.

Scouting the defense: The Eagles are pretty good on their level -- they rank in the FCS top 20 nationally in both scoring defense and total defense -- but they haven’t faced an opponent anywhere near as powerful as the Bulldogs offense that is averaging 471.1 yards per game. Georgia Southern has allowed 37.4 points per game in its last five tries against FBS teams -- all losses -- including 45 last season to eventual BCS champion Alabama.

Three keys to victory

  • Play it smart: Just like in defending Georgia Tech’s offense, neutralizing Georgia Southern’s option rushing attack requires defenders to play their assignments correctly down after down after down. It’s a mental challenge for linemen and linebackers to not get lazy because these offenses are designed to lull them to sleep before springing big plays triggered by undisciplined defense.

  • Floor it on offense: Between the second half of the Ole Miss game and the first half of the Auburn game, Georgia scored touchdowns almost at will. Aaron Murray and company certainly should be able to exert their will against a lower-division opponent that is allowing 18.9 points and 313.9 yards per game against FCS opponents.