Two of the nation's strongest rushing attacks face off on Saturday with identical 6-2 records
Georgia Southern survived a scare from Texas State last week, winning 40-38 to improve to 4-2 in Sun Belt Conference play. The win was the Eagles' third in a row and the team’s fifth victory decided by a single possession. The Eagles, who have only been beaten by ranked opponents to date, also lost a close one, 20-18 to Louisiana on a last-second field goal.
Led by former Georgia Southern head coach Jeff Monken, the Black Knights have played only one close contest: a 14-9 victory over The Citadel on Oct. 10. Army has beaten opponents by an average score of 38-10 in wins this season and entered last week with a 24-10 loss to undefeated Cincinnati as its lone blemish. However, the 38-12 loss to Tulane snapped a four-game winning streak.
Georgia Southern at Army
Kickoff: Saturday, November 21, at 12 p.m. ET
TV: CBS Sports Network
Spread: Army -4
When Georgia Southern Has the Ball
Few teams run the football better or more often than Georgia Southern, which ranks fifth in FBS with 275.8 rushing yards per game, and few have a triggerman as adept as Shai Werts, a senior expected to make his 43rd career start for the Eagles. Werts has 605 rushing yards and is tied for the team lead with six touchdowns on the ground. He tied a career-high three rushing TDs last week while running for 131 yards on a season-high 21 carries. The heavy workload comes one week after the Eagles lost leading rusher J.D. King (625 yards, 5 touchdowns) to a season-ending injury. Wesley Kennedy III (376, 6), Logan Wright (306, TD), Matt LaRoche (159), and Gerald Green (133, TD) provide depth, but King will be missed.
Werts set a career-high with 255 passing yards against Louisiana earlier this year but has reached 100 passing yards in only one other game. He threw for 127 yards with three touchdowns in the Eagle’ lone easy victory, 41-0 over UMass on Oct. 24, but hasn’t connected for a touchdown pass since and was intercepted five times in the subsequent four games. Overall, Werts has completed 58.9 percent of his passes for 789 yards with five touchdowns and six interceptions.
Malik Murray and Khaleb Hood share the team lead with 13 receptions, and each has caught one touchdown pass. Murray leads the team with 195 receiving yards, followed by Kennedy (156 yards on seven catches) and Hood (115). Tight end Beau Johnson leads the team with two TD grabs among his six catches for 101 yards but has missed the last two games and is expected to be out several more after he suffered a lower-body injury against South Alabama.
When Army West Point Has the Ball
Army ranks No. 2 on the FBS leaderboard in rushing offense (303.38 yards per game), and the Black Knights lead the country in rushing attempts per game (57.5) and rushing touchdowns (27). However, Monken has been forced to rely on a long list of players, including four quarterbacks, along the way.
Christian Anderson entered the season as the starter under center but missed three games due to multiple injuries before returning last week. Anderson leads the team with 72 carries and ranks third with 316 rushing yards. He has also scored four times. Backup Jemel Jones (237 yards, 3 TDs) also has dealt with injuries and has not played since Oct. 10, which has allowed Tyhier Tyler (223, TD) and Cade Ballard (20, TD) playing time. The quartet has combined to complete 26 of 64 pass attempts (40.6 percent) for 420 yards and four touchdowns with five interceptions.
Freshman running back Tyrell Robinson has been a big-play threat and leads the team with 347 rushing yards on just 43 attempts, an average of 8.07 yards per carry. Robinson also leads the team with two receiving touchdowns and ranks second with 89 yards on four receptions. Jakobi Buchanan (330 rushing yards, 4 TDs), Anthony Adkins (266, 4), Sandon McCoy (210, 8), and Cade Barnard (110, TD) round out a deep group in the backfield.
As is often the case playing opposite a successful option offense, both Army and Georgia Southern have posted solid traditional stats defensively. The Black Knights rank seventh nationally in total defense (286.6 yards allowed per game) while the Eagles (325.5) sit 22nd on the FBS leaderboard. Army has been more successful on a per-play basis, holding opponents to 4.93 yards per snap (21st overall) compared to No. 44 Georgia Southern (5.40), though the Eagles have had more success against the run, limiting opponents to 92.63 yards per game on the ground and 3.48 yards per carry, which rank No. 10 and No. 23, respectively, while Army has surrendered 112.0 yards per contest (19th) and 3.66 yards per attempt (31st).
Georgia Southern has played a more difficult schedule to date, but that has also resulted in many close, hard-fought matchups decided in the final minutes. It’s reasonable to expect another this week. But the Eagles have also suffered some significant injuries in recent weeks (in addition to various nicks and bruises Werts has picked up along the way) while Army is getting healthier and Anderson’s return provides a huge boost to consistency. Given that trend, and the home-field advantage, expect the Black Knights to pick up a close victory.
Prediction: Army West Point 24, Georgia Southern 23
(Wesley Kennedy III photo by AJ Henderson/Georgia Southern Athletics)