STATESBORO, Ga. — The contrast is illustrated graphically by the numbers.
Georgia Southern, with a high-powered, triple-option attack, leads NCAA FCS in rushing offense with an average of 392.18 yards per game.
The University of Central Arkansas ranks 10th nationally in scoring offense (365.55 per game). GSU is 14th at 356.5 per game.
UCA has three receivers with 50 or more receptions. The Eagles’ leading receiver has eight.
The two teams meet today in a second-round playoff game and something has to give.
“What they do is close to what everybody else in college football does except us,” said Georgia Southern coach Jeff Monken, whose Southern Conference co-champions enter the playoffs as the fifth seed nationally with an 8-3 record.
“It’s contrasting styles, but both teams get the ball in the end zone,” said UCA coach Clint Conque, whose 9-2 Bears (Southland Conference co-champions) are making their second-straight appearance in the playoffs and second-straight to the second round.
While the teams haven’t met since 2006 (UCA’s first year in Division I), each coach is familiar with the personnel and the challenges.
“You don’t win the Southern Conference without a great team and great athletes,” said Conque. “Their quarterback is a phenomenal athlete, They’ve gone back to the triple option, which has been their trademark in their most successful years. They may be doing the same thing on third and eight as first and 10. They’re counting on you to eventually miss an assignment or get knocked down and out of position. You’ve got to tackle the fullback, have to hit the quarterback and have someone assigned to the pitch on every single play. If you don’t do that or miss a tackle, you have no support.”
Jerrick McKinnon, the Eagles’ quarterback who took over at midseason, rushed for 569 yards and eight touchdowns in the final four games against teams that were a combined 32-13.
“The three receivers with 50 or more catches (Dezmin Lewis, Dominque Croom and Jesse Grandy) get your attention; they all have speed and Central Arkansas does a good job spreading you out and throwing the ball around,” Monken said. “On third down, they don’t have one guy they can throw to; it’s a whole herd of guys and all are athletic.
“And Grandy has that great ability to make people miss him in the open field. Against Nicholls State on tape, we saw him break away or make people miss at least five tackles on one single play.”
Monken’s concern doesn’t just rest with the receivers.
“I expected on tape to see a big offensive line, huge guys with pass-blocking ability,” he said. “They are not as big, but they have a lot of guys who can move. And their quarterback (Wynrick Smothers), when he’s in trouble, has a great ability to make plays on the run. He knows what to do with it. He doesn’t have to dump the ball out of bounds.”
One of the UCA staff’s greatest concerns is the cut block, an angle or misdirection block (legal if the blocker is not fully engaged with another defender) that is a major weapon for option teams.
“They go at your legs and try to get you on the ground,” Conque said. “They don’t have the biggest offensive line, but they can get you on the ground. With our style, that’s something we really can’t simulate in practice.”
Similarities to teams they have played:
“Appalachian State in our league throws the football a little bit and has good receivers,” Monken said.
“Probably Sam Houston State is the closest; Sam runs some triple option just out of a different formation (the Spread),” Conque said. “That game was earlier in the season but I think we can get some carryover.”
Winner of the game advances to the national quarterfinals against either Old Dominion or Coastal Carolina. Georgia Southern was a semifinalist last year before losing to eventual national champion North Dakota State.
Georgia Southern has won six national FCS titles but none since 2000.
“On the Mount Rushmore of FCS football, they are George Washington,” Conque said.
UCA (9-2) vs. Georgia Southern (8-3)
Time: 1 p.m. (Central)
Place: Paulson Stadium, Statesboro, Ga.
Situation: Second round, NCAA FCS playoffs
Coaches: Clint Conque, UCA, 13th season, 98-53. His team is making its second straight playoff appearance; Jeff Monken, GSU, third season, 29-11. He has led the Eagles to three straight playoff appearances and as a national semifinalist last year.
Media: KUCA (91.3 FM), 106.7 FM, The Heartbeat and Y107.1 FM. On the Internet at www.ucasports.com and ESPN3. Watch party, with the game on the video board at the Farris Center, beginning at 12:30 p.m. Free admission and concessions.
Series: UCA leads 1-0. Last meeting in the regular season in 2006.
Next: The winner advances next week to play the Old Dominion-Coastal Carolina winner in the quarterfinals
Here are links to some advance stories on the game by the Savannah Morning News: