College Sports

Georgia Southern ready to kick off season at West Virginia

The Georgia Southern Eagles open their season Saturday, taking on the West Virginia Mountaineers.

Georgia Southern will look to build on the success from head coach Willie Fritz’s first season after going 9-3 overall and 8-0 in Sun Belt Conference. That also marked the Eagles’ first season in FBS play.

In the first season with Fritz at the helm, the Eagles threw the ball more than in previous years, but they are still built to run the football. Fritz does seem committed to becoming more effective in the passing game heading into the season.

“We led the nation in rushing, but we were subpar as far throwing the ball,” Fritz said. “That’s a point of emphasis for us.”

In 2014, the Eagles finished second in the nation overall rushing yards with 4,573 and first in average yards per game with 381 yards. Their rushing attack help lead them to the top scoring offense in the Sun Belt Conference.

The Eagles return 10 starters, including junior running back Matt Breida, who averaged 8.7 yards per carry last season.

One of the question marks going into the game will be the offensive line as the Eagles are replacing four seniors who helped make that rushing attack so potent a year ago.

The Mountaineers did struggle against the run last season, ranking 63rd in the nation against the run, and while the defense as a whole seems to have improved, the defensive line remains a question mark.

The Eagles open the season without quarterback Kevin Ellison, who is suspended for the first two games due to an academic issue. Favian Upshaw performed well last year as the Eagles ran a two-quarterback system.

The Mountaineers also have questions at position as they will look to replace Clint Trickett with Skyler Howard, a former junior college transfer. Howard saw limited action last but came in at the end of the year when Trickett went down with an injury. Howard threw for 800 yards and eight touchdowns last season in his backup role.

“They are very well-coached. They’re a lot bigger than we are, and they’ve also got very good speed,” Fritz said.

The Eagles led the Sun Belt Conference last season in scoring defense, allowing 23.4 points per game. The defense returns 16 players who received playing time last season. The Eagles’ secondary gave up 234 yards per game last year.

“Georgia Southern doesn’t have the name recognition of an Alabama, but inside the coaching fraternity, they’ve got plenty of name recognition and respect,” West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen said.