The Eagles enter Saturday's contest against North Carolina with a 3-2 (2-1) FCS record. Georgia Southern won both of its home games this season, defeating Albany (29-26) and Western Carolina (27-3). Road trips haven't been quite as kind, however, as the Eagles dropped games at No. 21 South Dakota State (44-6) and No. 13 Elon (28-14), but they did respond last week with a 26-21 victory at Wofford.
Chris Hatcher has gotten off to a solid start in his third season as Georgia Southern's head coach, boasting 14 returning starters that are dead set on improving on 2008's 6-5 (4-4 SoCon) record. The Eagles run multiple formations with aggressive tendencies on both sides of the ball, currently ranking sixth in the Southern Conference in total offense (301.8 ypg) and fourth in defense (326.2 ypg). This program is still in the maturation phase under Hatcher, as evidenced by the 18 players that earned their first significant collegiate snaps against Albany.
"They already know. You just turn on the tape. ... It's going to be a huge challenge for our team. There's no doubt about it. We're outmanned at every position. Our goal this week: get better at what we do. Improve as a football team. Go up there, be loose, have a good time… We get to show our skills on the national stage. Who knows? You have to play the game. Anything can happen and that's the attitude we're taking." – Hatcher on playing North Carolina
"You can call it whatever you want to, it's just our style of play. We want to go out there and, number one, play to the very best of our ability and, number two, attack in all phases of the game... on the defensive side of the ball, special teams and offense. Most people say the ‘Hatch Attack' is strictly the name of the offense. I look at it as the name of how we play the game." – Hatcher on the "Hatch Attack" approach
Lee Chapple hails from Alpharetta, Ga., and seemed destined to end up a FBS program coming out of high school in 2007. After all, the 6-foot-1, 200-pounder boasted 4,901 passing yards and 49 touchdowns during his career at Greater Atlanta Christian High School, including 1,904 passing yards, 17 touchdowns and four interceptions as a senior. Those numbers earned him the No. 73 quarterback ranking by ESPN, but Chapple would eventually become a significant piece of Hatcher's initial recruiting class.
Among the national leaders, Chapple currently ranks third in completions (124), fifth in completions per game (24.8 p/g), 40th in passing yards (198.2), 68th in total offense (179.8 ypg) and 72nd in passing efficiency (116.87). In his last six games he is 173-of-254 (.681) for 1,454 yards and nine touchdowns
An ankle injury sidelined the red-shirt sophomore for two games toward the end of the '08 season, but even so, he will likely move into the top-five of GSU's record books in attempts, completions, passing yards and touchdowns by December.
As with most FCS-level football players, Chapple is looking to prove that he can play on any collegiate stage.
"We get to test our skills against some of the best at the I-A level," he said. "It's exciting for some guys who might have been overlooked or passed over [by I-A teams]. Everybody's playing with a chip on their shoulder."
Matchups to Watch
North Carolina's Offense vs. Georgia Southern's 3-3-5 Defense
The statistics have been tossed about to the point of convulsion this week – UNC's 280.8 yards (113th nationally, 11th ACC) and 18.6 points (107th nationally, 12th ACC) per game to go along with an even worse 198.7 yards and 7.3 points per game against BCS opposition.
Things have gotten so bad for offensive coordinator John Shoop's offense that head coach Butch Davis announced a simplification process on Monday to help soothe the bumps, bruises and headaches of his young and inexperienced offensive line and wide receiving corps.
"We've got to find things that our kids can do, do well, and do with confidence. That's going to come with practice and repetition and…the simplification aspect of it…that gives them lots of reps at it," Davis said.
For that reason, North Carolina's second FCS opponent arrives on the schedule at the most perfect time. But the Tar Heels didn't exactly run up and down the field on their first FCS opponent this season. Against The Citadel, UNC managed just 4-of-12 third-down conversions en route to 375 total yards.
Shaun Draughn and Co. churned out 261 of their 500 rushing yards thus far in '09, and an emphasis on rediscovering the ground game will be a must against the Eagles. If the offensive line is unable to give T.J. Yates enough time in the passing game for the remainder of the season, Sam Pittman's group must at least be able to handle the simpler run-block responsibilities to give this offense some life.
Georgia Southern has been average at best defending the run, allowing 141.8 yards per outing (61st nationally). But Davis indicated on Monday that his offensive line struggled with the new look that Virginia delivered with its 3-4 scheme, and the Eagles' unique 3-3-5 defense – complete with a rover and a bandit – will serve as a good test.
Georgia Southern's No-Huddle Offense vs. North Carolina's Defense
Robert Quinn (27 tackles, 9.5 TFL, 6.0 sacks) and his defensive line comrades are likely salivating at facing the Eagles' under-sized offensive line – only two starters are listed north of 280 pounds. The Tar Heels rank eighth nationally in total defense (521.2 ypg) and 15th in scoring defense (14.6), thanks to 2.6 sacks (26th) and 9.4 tackles for loss (4th) per game.
The main reason that John Blake's defense line should expect a dominating performance is the fact that Chapple was sacked a combined 17 times in the losses to South Dakota St. and Elon.
To get some of the pressure off Chapple and allow the offense time to work, Hatcher decided to install a no-huddle look that is intended to increase tempo and keep opposing defenses off-kilter.
In last weekend's win over Wofford, Chapple operated the offense as if he had run the new approach his whole life, completing 25-of-28 passes for 187 yards. He started the game with 17 completions in a row, tying a mark of The Citadel's Stanley Myers for second place in conference history.
"We had to do something," Hatcher said. "I don't think we were knowledgeable enough to do [a no-huddle offense] up until this time."
No disrespect intended to Georgia Southern, but this game will present North Carolina with its first legitimate shot at a shutout during the Davis era. The Eagles won't go down lightly, though – the program has not suffered a shutout since a 45-0 loss to Montana on Dec. 2, 1995, a steak lasting 170 games.