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Georgia Southern vs. Louisiana Prediction: Sun Belt Teams Striving for Bowl Eligibility Meet on Thursday Night

Pair of first-year head coaches face off looking to secure or improve their team's bowl chances.
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Georgia Southern and Louisiana will face off in Sun Belt action on Thursday night in a game that is important to both teams for the same reason. With just three games remaining, the Eagles and Ragin' Cajuns won't win their respective divisions but are still fighting for their postseason lives.

Related: College Football Predictions for Every Game in Week 11

Georgia Southern (5-4, 2-3 Sun Belt) needs just one victory to become bowl eligible, which is quite the turnaround after going 3-9 last season. Former USC head coach Clay Helton has come in and put his stamp on the Eagles, who have made the transition from the triple option to a spread-style offense rather seamlessly.

Louisiana was expected to take a few steps backward after losing head coach Billy Napier and a host of players from last year's Sun Belt championship-winning that won 13 games in a row after losing at Texas in the opener, but rookie head coach Michael Desormeaux has done a good job keeping the Ragin' Cajuns (4-5, 2-4) afloat. They have a little more work to do to get to a bowl game, which is why Thursday night's matchup with an Eagles team that is 2-3 on the road is so critical.

Georgia Southern at Louisiana

Kickoff: Thursday, Nov. 10 at 7:30 p.m. ET
TV: ESPN2
Live Stream: fuboTV (Start your free trial)
Spread: Louisiana -3
Tickets: As low as $30 on SITickets.com

When Georgia Southern Has the Ball

After years of relying on the triple option, the Eagles have taken to the air under first-year head coach Clay Helton. He has transformed this offense, which now boasts not only the Sun Belt's top passing attack, but one that ranks fourth in the nation. With Buffalo transfer Kyle Vantrease at the helm, Georgia Southern is averaging 331.3 passing yards per game. Vantrease is third in the conference with 20 touchdown passes, but he has tossed 13 interceptions. That latter number is a little concerning going up against a Louisiana defense that is tied for third in the FBS with 14 picks.

Four different Eagles wide receivers have recorded 35 or more catches, led by Khaleb Hood's 60 for a team-high 685 yards. Derwin Burgess Jr. and Amare Jones have each posted six touchdown catches.

Georgia Southern hasn't completely gone away from its old ways, though. The team ranks in the middle of the Sun Belt in rushing offense (148.9 ypg), which is more impressive when you consider the Eagles have the second-fewest carries (276). But when you are averaging 4.9 yards per carry as a team volume isn't as important. Jalen White and Gerald Green have been a nice one-two punch in the backfield. White is third in the conference with 743 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns. Green has seen roughly half as many carries (76 vs. 142) but he's averaging 5.7 yards per attempt and has scored six times on the ground.

Louisiana's defense could be well-equipped to limit the damage Vantrease and his weapons and create. Besides the interceptions, the Ragin' Cajuns are second in passing yards allowed per game in conference play at 196.7 while holding quarterbacks to a 52.3 percent completion rate. Another key area to watch is third down. Georgia Southern is converting more than half of its opportunities (52.1 percent), a rate that ranks in the top 10 nationally, while Louisiana has held Sun Belt opponents to a 36 percent success rate on third down.

When Louisiana Has the Ball

In many ways, the Ragin' Cajuns were starting over on offense following the departure of so many key pieces, as well as Napier, from last season's unit. Quarterback was one of the biggest questions entering this season and two different signal-callers shared the snaps early in Chandler Fields and Ben Woolridge. But Fields got hurt in the Oct. 1 loss to South Alabama and hasn't played since, giving Woolridge an opportunity to take over the offense. Over the last four games, the Fresno State transfer has thrown for 1,028 yards with nine touchdowns and three interceptions. He has cooled off after a hot start, throwing all of those picks in a loss to Southern Miss a couple of weeks ago followed up by just 112 passing yards in this past Saturday's loss to Troy, so he'll need to get it going again.

Michael Jefferson is the team's top receiver with 36 catches for 616 yards and five touchdowns but he's not alone. Eight other players have recorded 10 or more catches and five have at least two touchdowns so Georgia Southern will have multiple options to cover.

Woolridge also needs to find his rhythm again because the Cajuns have not exactly been raging on the ground. In conference games, the team is averaging 3.7 yards per carry and has just four rushing touchdowns. Leading rusher Chris Smith is coming off a 97-yard effort against the Trojans, and he may be able to continue that production against an Eagles' defense that has been by far the most generous against the run. Georgia Southern is yielding 229.4 rushing yards per Sun Belt game, including 5.7 yards per carry and 13 rushing touchdowns in just five contests.

That's part of the reason why Georgia Southern has actually given up more points (174) than it's scored (167) in Sun Belt play. This Eagles defense doesn't make a lot of stops behind the line of scrimmage (37 tackles for a loss this season, fewest in the conference), so it's critical that Louisiana avoids the negative plays and the turnovers. The Ragin' Cajuns have committed 11 (six INTs, five fumbles) in their five Sun Belt games.

Final Analysis

Both first-year head coaches have their Sun Belt teams on the verge of bowl eligibility, but Helton has Georgia Southern a game closer than Desormeaux and Louisiana. The Ragin' Cajuns are the defending conference champs and have this game on their home field, but it's the Eagles who have surprised many by making the transition from a ground-heavy offensive approach to one of the nation's most potent passing attacks. Louisiana has done a good job of making opposing quarterbacks pay for poor throws, and Vantrease has thrown his share of interceptions, so the turnover department is something to keep an eye on. But Georgia Southern shouldn't have to rely on just throwing the ball to make things happen against a Cajuns' defense that has to carry more of the load because of their offense's issues. The Eagles' more balanced attack should be enough to allow them to leave Lafayette with a bowl-clinching victory.

Prediction: Georgia Southern 27, Louisiana 23

*Price as of publication.