A year ago, Georgia Southern was one of the least penalized teams in college football, averaging five per game.
After three games this season, penalties have become a problem for the Eagles as they have been flagged 32 times for 250 yards.
It’s an area Georgia Southern (3-0) needs to get cleaned up, head coach Tyson Summers said, if it is to beat favored Western Michigan (3-0) when the teams meet at 7 p.m. on Saturday at Waldo Stadium in Kalamazoo, Michigan.
Georgia Southern was flagged 15 times in last week’s 23-21 win over Louisiana-Monroe.
“We’ve had mistakes, missed assignments certainly, things that need to be fixed,” Summers said. “But it comes back to things we’ve been saying — penalties. Those are the things that are frustrating and things we need to get fixed.
“We’ve certainly tried to address them the last couple of (early practices). We’ve got to make sure we’ve got them cleaned up, but until we do, it will continue to give us a hard time on Saturday.”
Western Michigan is receiving national attention after beating Big Ten opponents Northwestern and Illinois on the road. The 34-10 win over Illinois last week was especially impressive as the Broncos limited the Illini to only 3 yards rushing.
While not happy with the number of penalties, Summers was willing to give his team the benefit of a doubt.
“A lot of them are on me more than anything else,” Summers said. “Since I’ve been here, I have tried to establish a brand of how we play, to be more aggressive and get after people.
“I think we’re trying to play aggressively, but you’ve got to be smart and aggressive at the same time. That’s not what we’re doing right now.”
Last season, the Eagles beat the Broncos 43-17 in Statesboro. Broncos head coach P.J. Fleck said his team would not be using last year’s game as motivation to gain revenge.
“Everybody was kind of shocked when that happened,” Fleck said of the fans’ reaction to last year’s loss. “It was not a shock to us. We know how good they are, and then they went on to beat the champion of our league, Bowling Green, by 30 points in a bowl game. Everybody knows who they are by now. They’ve got a lot of people back. They’re doing a lot of the same stuff, but they’re doing some different things, too.
“We’ve got our work cut out for us. Our culture in our program is very simple: Last year has nothing to do with this year. The only thing it has to do with is learning from your past.”
Western Michigan has three of the top performers in the MAC in quarterback Zach Terrell, wide receiver Corey Davis and running back Jamauri Bogan. Davis has 18 catches for 317 yards and three touchdowns this season and ranks as the leading active receiver in FBS with 36 career touchdown catches. He has 263 catches for 4,102 yards and needs only 86 yards to break the MAC career mark.
Terrell, who is also a senior, has 5,045 yards passing in his career as he has hit on 433-of-690 attempts for 39 scores. He is 50-of-71 for 623 yards and five scores this season.
Bogan had 183 yards in the win over Illinois, and he has 423 for the season which ranks him fifth in the nation. Last year as a freshman, he ran 1,015 yards and was the MVP of the Bahamas Bowl, which was the first bowl victory in program history.
Fleck has the Broncos’ program in high gear. Western Michigan has reeled off back-to-back 8-5 seasons to go with this year’s 3-0 start.
“I think you find out who you are from week to week,” Fleck said. “We found out last week we are good enough to beat Illinois. This week, we find out if we are good enough to beat Georgia Southern.”
Summers said he has been impressed with what he has seen on tape.
“They’re a good football team, obviously,” Summers said. “They don’t try to hide what they are. They don’t try to have any gimmicks. They don’t have two million schemes on either side of the ball.
“They have players who play well together, play smart and aggressive. We just have to make sure we give ourselves a chance to be successful.”