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Georgia Southern at Indiana: game preview, analysis, odds, tv channel, kickoff times and more

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The struggling visitors from the Sun Belt shouldn’t give the Hoosiers too much trouble, but this is Indiana football after all.

Georgia Southern v Auburn Photo by Butch Dill/Getty Images

Game Info / How to Watch

Who? Indiana Hoosiers (1-1, #53 S&P+) vs Georgia Southern Eagles (0-2, #118 S&P+)

When? Saturday, 9/23 3:30 PM, Bloomington, Indiana

Channel? BTN

Vegas? INDIANA -24

S&P+ Projection? INDIANA 35.5 - 14.1

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We’re back, baby!

Following an impressive road victory over a getting-decent Virginia team, Indiana returns home to take on a bottoming-out Georgia Southern. The Eagles were 9-4 (39th S&P+) back in 2015 under Willie Fritz, who left for the Tulane gig and Georgia Southern has yet to recover. They went 5-7 (91st) last season and currently sit at 0-2, with losses at Auburn (not all that embarrassing) and at home against New Hampshire (extremely embarrassing).

You think Indiana’s offense is in a bad place right now? The Eagles’ spread-option attack has generated nineteen points this season. Total.

FIVE FACTORS

- Explosiveness (86%) Efficiency (83%) Field Position (75%) Finishing Drives (72%) Turnover Margin (73%)
- Explosiveness (86%) Efficiency (83%) Field Position (75%) Finishing Drives (72%) Turnover Margin (73%)
INDIANA (#90 offense) 1.06 (104th) 38.4% (104th) 29.4 (72nd) 4.46 (67th) -9 (123rd)
MICHIGAN STATE (#9 defense) .095 (3rd) 34.0% (14th) 27.5 (29th) 4.05 (45th) 0 (59th)
- - - - - -
MICHIGAN STATE (#78 offense) 1.12 (92nd) 40.9% (78th) 30.5 (54th) 4.19 (87th) 0 (59th)
INDIANA (#22 defense) 0.99 (9th) 38.2% (39th) 29.1 (67th) 4.67 (88th) -9 (123rd)

(% indicates how often a team wins the game if they win that battle. Explanation here.)

THE OPPONENT

Good lord, those are some ugly offensive numbers across the board for both teams. Georgia Southern is the worst in FBS, currently, at generating big plays and staying on schedule. This is a death sentence to any offense but particularly damning for the Eagles’ run-heavy approach. They’re 13th in standard down run rate and 20th in passing down run rate, meaning there is rarely a scenario where they won’t run the ball, but they are undeniably terrible at it (121st in success rate, 111th in explosiveness).

Freshman quarterback Shai Werts is the team’s leading rusher, and his numbers are decent (43 carries, 215 yards) and can shake loose in the second level (6.9 HY/O, nice) but isn’t frequently given that opportunity (34.9% opportunity rate). But it’s L.A. Ramsby (19 carries, 62 yards) that owns the team’s only offensive touchdown on the year. Wesley Fields rounds out the trio of runners, racking up 73 yards on 26 carries. Don’t worry about that math, I’ve done it for you, Georgia Southern’s top two running backs are averaging 3.00 yards per carry. With a game against an FCS opponent in the books!

Through two games, Werts has thrown the ball 30 times, completed 15 of them for 100 yards, and been picked off twice. He’s also been sacked a mind-numbing 11 times. It becomes abundantly clear why Southern sticks to running the ball despite being woeful at it when you see the passing numbers: 128th in success rate, 130th in explosiveness. Southern’s “leading receiver” is technically Mark Michaud. The 6’4” sophomore has great size for the position and 3 catches for 39 yards on the season.

Their defense isn’t nearly as much of a calamity but don’t mistake that for being good. They’re reasonably decent at preventing successful run plays, but when they do fail at that, it typically goes for long yardage. Given their great stuff rate (34th in the country) and poor explosiveness numbers (127th), it tells you that Southern either gets you at the line of scrimmage or doesn’t get you at all and the former doesn’t happen nearly often enough to make up for how much the latter happens. It’s the inverse through the air, they keep receivers in front of them (51st in defensive explosiveness) but are giving way too much cushion in order to do so (112th in defensive success rate).

The Eagles’ strength is in their defensive line, who own the top Havoc Rate in the country, lead by Logan Hunt (2 TFL, 2 sacks, 2 stuffs) and Ty Phillips (3 TFL, 3 stuffs, 2 pass break-ups). The linebackers aren’t bad either (26th) but the team’s leading tackler is safety Jay Bowdry (also the owner of the squad’s lone interception) and you don’t want a member of your secondary leading your squad in tackles, as it typically means the front seven isn’t getting their job done.

THE HOOSIERS

Speaking of miserable offenses, the Hoosiers have a QUARTERBACK CONTROVERSY (kind of (not really)). Richard Lagow was removed from the Virginia contest in favor of Peyton Ramsey who came in and used his legs to stay alive long enough to make plays behind an offensive line that has been, quite simply, horrible through Indiana’s first two games. It’s one thing to get eaten alive by Ohio State’s future first rounders, it’s another to have Virginia beat you one-on-one down after down.

Ramsey looked good against Virginia, I have concerns that he has the arm strength to be a consistent option in Big Ten play, but if the Hoosiers can’t get better line play, they won’t have a choice. It appears Brandon Knight is set to make his return this weekend, and he’s talented enough to make a positive impact all on his own. But I’ll let a guy who played the position (our own Alex Robbins) tell you how having a bad offensive line makes every phase of the game harder:

You can survive with a line that struggles in pass pro. You can aid them with max protection, screens, draws - anything to help throw off the defensive line. And IU has the talent at WR that if they just couldn't pass block, they'd be alright. But when you can't run block, you lose all your running plays, play action, quick hits, and screens. Because the defense can just play 5 on 5 or 6 on 5 in the box and win their individual matchups; and that actually kills the passing game more than struggling to pass block. When you can't do either, then you've got all those run block problems but you also can't beat them in the air because a 4-man rush when you play 5 on 5 or 6 on 5 is too much for a 5 step drop and some hesitation.

It’s why questions about who should play QB and who should start at RB are, in all honesty, not getting at the heart of the issue. Until the offensive line plays better, the Hoosiers have no shot at getting points on the board consistently against Big Ten competition. They’re 127th in opportunity rate (% of times a run goes for at least 5 yards) and are getting stuffed 22% of the time (97th). They’re yielding untenable sack rates in every situation and it is mucking up everything.

THREE THINGS

  • Start Morgan Ellison? There was some hubbub about Ellison’s place on the depth chart this week (4th) despite this being the first week he’s actually appeared on the chart. Fans have clamored for a change given Mike Majette’s horrendous start (19 carries, 21 yards). Ellison is decidedly better but still decidedly below average (19 carries, 71 yards). However, it should be noted his opportunity rate is over three times as high as Majette’s (36.8% to 10.5%), and Majette is still gaining more yards when he’s (barely ever) in the second level (2.3 HY/O compared to Ellison’s 1.3). Bottom line: none of these numbers are really acceptable, and a lot of Ellison’s “success” could be attributed to him coming in later in games against tired defenders. On the flip side, his physical style may be more suited for Indiana’s poor blocking, as he can get hit at the line of scrimmage and continue forward. Majette has been one of Indiana’s best players in space throughout his career, but with no space available, it’s tough to move forward.
  • Our OL against their DL: As discussed earlier, Southern’s defensive line has played well through the team’s first two games and are certainly a unit that can give Indiana fits. If Southern springs the upset, it’ll be because they break through the cracks and create enough disruption to get points on the boards themselves. If Indiana’s OL plays well, you don’t have to dismiss it as “well it was Georgia Southern” because it’s still one of the better DL they’ll play this season.
  • Defensive assertiveness: Prior to the Virgina contest I highlighted the need for the defense to generate big plays to help offset their pedestrian success rate. They answered the bell, KIND OF, against the Cavaliers, having an interception and a fumble recovery + touchdown wiped out by two separate, and in my opinion, egregiously soft penalties. With a hapless offense coming into town, it would be nice to see the defense make the afternoon a highlight reel.

PREDICTION

This shouldn’t be a difficult game for the Hoosiers, but they’ve made messes of similar games in the past. With over a week to prepare, I don’t think they’ll be caught off-guard. I think Indiana builds on their road win last time out and looks good in all three phrases. HOOSIERS 34, Eagles 6