Sep 9, 2023; Pullman, Washington, USA; Wisconsin Badgers quarterback Tanner Mordecai (8) throws a pass against the Washington State Cougars in the first half at Gesa Field at Martin Stadium. Mandatory Credit: James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Wisconsin wary of upset-minded Georgia Southern

Wisconsin will try to bounce back from an upset loss that knocked it out of the rankings when it hosts Georgia Southern on Saturday in Madison, Wis.

The Badgers (1-1) suffered their first loss of the Luke Fickell era, dropping a 31-22 decision at Washington State last Saturday. Wisconsin, which went into Pullman, Wash., ranked 19th, lost three fumbles and its trademark running game managed just 90 yards on 29 attempts.

“It was a tough one to swallow, going on the road and not performing the way we would’ve liked to perform,” said Fickell, who took over at Wisconsin after six seasons at Cincinnati, where he went 57-18.

“We got outplayed, to be honest with you. That’s just being real.”

Georgia Southern (2-0) has scored 83 points in its two victories, including a 49-35 win over UAB last Saturday.

“The reality is you’ve got a 2-0 Georgia Southern team that knocked off Nebraska at home last season,” Fickell said.

Wisconsin rallied from a 24-9 halftime deficit against Washington State to within 24-22 late in the third quarter, but was stopped on the two-point conversion. The Cougars recovered a Chez Mellusi fumble midway through the fourth quarter and turned it into a clinching 57-yard scoring drive.

SMU transfer Tanner Mordecai completed 25 of 40 passes for 278 yards with one touchdown against the Cougars, but he also lost two fumbles on strip-sacks, including one recovered for a touchdown.

Braelon Allen, who rushed for 2,510 yards and 23 touchdowns in his first two seasons, carried just seven times for 20 yards.

“They did a good job of taking away the run and stopping the run,” Fickell said.

The Eagles, picked in the preseason poll to finish fifth in the Sun Belt Conference East Division, are averaging 476.5 yards over their first two games.

Tulsa transfer Davis Brin has completed 65 of 83 passes this season for 562 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions. He completed 38 of 47 throws for 318 yards and two TDs against UAB.

“This was one of those momentum games that was going back and forth,” Georgia Southern coach Clay Helton told the Statesboro Herald. “With their weapons and Trent Dilfer as their head coach we knew it was going to be a high scoring game.”

Wisconsin has never faced Georgia Southern. Last season, the Eagles stunned Nebraska 45-42, another Big Ten opponent, with Cornhuskers coach Scott Frost fired the next day.

–Field Level Media

Georgia Southern's Joshua Thompson (24) blocked a punt and recovered it in the end zone for a touchdown against James Madison on Saturday at Paulson Stadium in Statesboro.

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Kyle Vantrease leads Ga. Southern to upset over No. 25 JMU

Georgia Southern quarterback Kyle Vantrease set a school record with 578 passing yards and threw four touchdowns, including the game-winner with 1:10 remaining, to help the Eagles stun No. 25 James Madison 45-38 in Statesboro, Ga., on Saturday.

James Madison took the lead with 2:28 left when Todd Centeio threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to Terrance Greene Jr. But the Eagles responded by driving 75 yards in 10 plays, going ahead on Vantrease’s final TD pass to Derwin Burgess Jr.

Georgia Southern sealed the massive upset when Anthony Wilson intercepted Centeio with 18 seconds remaining. It was the fourth turnover created by the Eagles, who also scored on a blocked punt.

Vantrease completed 38 of 64 passes and threw two touchdowns to Amare Jones and one each to Burgess and Jalen White. The graduate senior, who was picked off four times a week ago, was intercepted only once.

Georgia Southern (4-3, 1-2 Sun Belt) spread the ball around.

Khaleb Hood had eight catches for 131 yards, Jones had seven for 164, Jeremy Singleton had seven for 108 and Burgess had seven for 84. The Eagles shredded a JMU defense that had allowed only 15 points and 227.4 yards per game for 590 total yards.

Georgia Southern kicker Alex Raynor kicked three field goals from 20, 41 and 24 yards.

James Madison (5-1, 3-1) got a stellar effort from Centeio, who completed 28 of 48 passes for 468 yards and two touchdowns but tossed three interceptions. Centeio, a two-time Sun Belt Player of the Week, also ran 12 times for 44 yards and three touchdowns.

JMU’s running game was led by Percy Agyei-Obese with 106 yards on 18 carries. Reggie Brown caught eight passes for 136 yards and one touchdown, and Kris Thornton caught five passes for 126 yards.

James Madison, in its first year of FBS football, was trying to become the first team to start the season 6-0 after transitioning from FCS.

–Field Level Media

Sep 3, 2022; Lincoln, Nebraska, USA; Nebraska Cornhuskers head coach Scott Frost looks on during a timeout in the second quarter against the North Dakota Fighting Hawks at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dylan Widger-USA TODAY Sports

Nebraska looking to build momentum, hosts Georgia Southern

Teams led by coaches with plenty of experience operating on the hot seat meet Saturday in Lincoln, Neb., when Nebraska hosts Georgia Southern in a nonconference game.

Nebraska coach Scott Frost is high on most lists of college football coaches likely to be fired this season, a spot solidified when his Cornhuskers opened the season by blowing a two-score lead and a loss to Big Ten foe Northwestern. The Huskers evened their record at 1-1 last week with a 38-17 home win over North Dakota, though the game was tied at 17 in the third quarter.

“Looking back on the game I thought there was a lot of good things we could take from it,” Frost said. “Usually when you watch tape nothing’s as good as you think or as bad as you think. It’s been a process to get everyone on the same page.”

Georgia Southern opened its season with a 59-7 home win over Morgan State, making for a solid debut under new coach Clay Helton. Helton was hired by the Eagles last November after he was fired by USC two games into his seventh season as head coach.

Helton’s USC tenure involved several seasons on the rumor mill as the Trojans never achieved the national heights expected at USC — much like Frost’s experience at Nebraska.

Following their season-opening pratfall, the Cornhuskers rushed for 244 yards and three touchdowns against North Dakota, more than doubling their ground production from the first game. Junior Anthony Grant ran for 189 yards and two scores, earning Big Ten Offensive Co-Player of the Week honors.

Georgia Southern got 367 passing yards and four TD passes from quarterback Kyle Vantrease, a 6th-year senior transfer from Buffalo who tied the school record for TDs and had the Eagles’ first 300-yard passing game since 2008.

Picked to finish fifth in the Sun Belt’s East Division, Georgia Southern is 0-2 all-time against the Big Ten with losses at Indiana (2017) and Minnesota (2019). The Eagles are 2-30 against current power-conference teams, the last win coming at Florida in 2013 when they were still at the FCS level.

Nebraska is 15-2 against Sun Belt schools, most recently losing at home to Troy in 2018 — Frost’s first season, when the Cornhuskers started 0-6. Nebraska is now 16-30 under Frost.

–Field Level Media

Dec 23, 2020; New Orleans, LA, USA;  Georgia Southern Eagles quarterback Shai Werts (1) runs through the tackle of Louisiana Tech Bulldogs linebacker Tyler Grubbs (52) to score a touchdown during the New Orleans Bowl at Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Georgia Southern cruises past Louisiana Tech in New Orleans Bowl

Shai Werts, who missed the final two regular-season games with a shoulder injury, ran for three touchdowns and threw for another as Georgia Southern pounded Louisiana Tech 38-3 in the New Orleans Bowl on Wednesday afternoon at the Superdome in New Orleans.

Werts gained 71 rushing yards on 15 carries. He scored on runs of 1, 37 and 1 yards. He was 7-for-12 for 126 yards in the air.

Georgia Southern (8-5) led 21-3 at halftime.

Khaleb Hood scored on a 65-yard pass from Werts in the second quarter and about 8 1/2 minutes later Werts rambled on his 37-yard scoring run.

Louisiana Tech (5-5) scored its lone points on Jacob Barnes’ 45-yard field goal with nine seconds left in the first half.

Louisiana Tech’s bowl winning streak of six games was the longest active mark in the country, but it came to a crashing conclusion. Bulldogs coach Skip Holtz was denied from picking up his 150th career college coaching victory.

Louisiana Tech quarterback Aaron Allen was just 10-for-24 for 41 yards through the air. Backup JD Head came on and completed 9 of 14 throws for 78 yards. Running back Israel Tucker gained 123 yards on 20 carries.

Georgia Southern scored on the game’s opening possession, using 10 plays to cover 65 yards with Werts finishing it with a 1-yard run. Receiver Malik Murray’s 43-yard ground pickup and a fourth-and-1 conversion were the big plays on the drive.

Louisiana Tech moved inside the Georgia Southern 20-yard line late in the first quarter. That threat was doused by Justin Birdsong’s interception.

Gerald Green’s 4-yard fourth-quarter run marked the game’s final touchdown.

Georgia Southern had only a 17-15 edge in first downs, but most of the big plays went in its direction.

This was the first meeting between the teams.

Georgia Southern lost three of its last four regular-season games, each of the setbacks by eight points or less. Louisiana Tech didn’t play in November because of postponements and cancelations, then played three games (including the bowl) in December.

Georgia Southern is 3-1 in bowls in a six-year span since rising from the Football Championship Subdivision.

–Field Level Media

Sep 12, 2020; Lawrence, Kansas, USA; Coastal Carolina Chanticleers safety Alex Spillum (10) celebrates after making a play against the Kansas Jayhawks at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

No. 25 Coastal Carolina beats Georgia Southern to stay perfect

Playing its first game as a member of the Top 25, No. 25 Coastal Carolina looked the part when it mattered most, scoring two touchdowns in less than two minutes halfway through the fourth quarter on Saturday to topple Georgia Southern 28-14 at Conway, S.C.

CJ Marable snapped a tie with 8:53 remaining, taking a pass from Fred Payton and going 24 yards against a busted coverage for a 21-14 lead. Reese White followed with a 20-yard touchdown run with 6:58 left, one play after Jaivon Heiligh returned a punt 40 yards to set up the Chanticleers (5-0, 3-0 Sun Belt Conference) in prime position.

Payton completed 15 of 28 passes for Coastal Carolina for 252 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions. He was starting for the first time this year after starter Grayson McCall, a redshirt freshman who threw for 11 touchdowns with just one interception in the first four games, was declared out with an upper-body injury.

The Chanticleers, in just their fourth year as an FBS member, struck early with Payton under center. He found Sam Denmark for a 72-yard scoring strike with 7:10 left in the first quarter.

The Eagles (3-2, 1-2) responded with a special teams touchdown. Wesley Kennedy lugged a punt 60 yards with 57 seconds left in the period to even the game.

Coastal Carolina regained the lead with 8:57 remaining in the half on Payton’s 2-yard touchdown pass to Cameron Brown. But Georgia Southern fought back to tie it up with 24 seconds left in the half on a 5-yard run by J.D. King.

Neither team scored in the third quarter, but the Chants came through down the stretch to perhaps earn another week in the rankings.

Quarterback Shai Werts experienced a rough day for the Eagles, hitting only 7 of 20 passes for 94 yards with two interceptions and rushing for just 36 yards on 16 carries. Werts entered the game as the ninth-leading career rusher among active FBS players.

–Field Level Media

Sep 19, 2020; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin Cajuns quarterback Levi Lewis (1) runs with the ball against the Georgia State Panthers during the first half at Center parc Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Snyder kicks No. 19 Louisiana past Ga. Southern

Nate Snyder kicked a 53-yard field goal as time expired to give No. 19 Louisiana a 20-18 victory against visiting Georgia Southern on Saturday afternoon in a Sun Belt Conference game.

Snyder, who had missed a 34-yard field goal earlier in the game, made the winning kick after Georgia Southern had taken the lead with 54 seconds left. Shai Werts passed for a touchdown and made the two-point conversion for the Eagles.

Levi Lewis completed 18 of 32 for 290 yards and drove the Ragin’ Cajuns (3-0, 2-0) 39 yards in seven plays on the final drive.

Werts, who finished 11 of 18 for 255 yards, threw a 28-yard touchdown to Khaleb Hood late in the fourth quarter. Werts then narrowly avoided a sack to find Darion Anderson for the 2-point conversion.

That score came one possession after the Eagles (1-1, 0-1) lost an opportunity to tie or go ahead.

Wertz passed to Beau Johnson for what initially was ruled a 57-yard touchdown with 2:48 left. But the play was overturned when replays showed that Johnson lost the ball at the 2-yard line, and it bounced through the end zone for a touchback.

But Georgia Southern forced a punt and Werts drove his team 61 yards in five plays, the last of which was a diving, one-handed catch by Hood.

Elijah Mitchell, who rushed for 164 yards and the winning touchdown in an overtime victory at Georgia State last week, was one of six Louisiana starters who missed the game because of COVID-19 issues.

The Eagles’ Alex Raynor broke a 7-7 halftime tie when he kicked a 27-yard field goal with 5:49 left in the third quarter.

Snyder’s 25-yard field goal on the ensuing possession tied the score at the end of the third quarter.

Louisiana took its first lead of the game when Lewis threw a 27-yard touchdown pass to freshman Errol Rogers Jr. with 10:34 left in the game.

Werts threw a 61-yard pass to Wesley Kennedy III that set up J.D. King’s 2-yard touchdown run on the first play of the second quarter to open the scoring. King finished with 100 yards.

Trey Ragas, who started in Mitcvhell’s place, rushed 10 yards for a tying touchdown with 9:25 left in the second quarter.

–Field Level Media

Sep 19, 2020; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin Cajuns running back Elijah Mitchell (15) runs the ball against the Georgia State Panthers during overtime at Center parc Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

No. 19 Louisiana risks unbeaten mark vs. Georgia Southern

The Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns already have made history this season. And they haven’t even played a home game yet.

The Ragin’ Cajuns beat a Top 25 team on the road for the first time in school history when they opened the season with a 31-14 victory at then-No. 23 Iowa State in Ames, Iowa, two weeks ago.

That earned them their own ranking as they moved into the No. 19 spot, which they maintained this week after a 34-31 overtime victory at Georgia State in Atlanta in their Sun Belt Conference opener last week.

Now they come home to meet Georgia Southern (1-0) in the Eagles’ Sun Belt opener Saturday.

Louisiana started slowly last week and had to overcome a pair of 14-point deficits to prevail.

“We’re very much a work in progress,” Cajuns coach Billy Napier said. “We have a team that has tons of potential, but we sometimes don’t perform on a consistent basis like we should. We need to start faster, and we need to continue to improve.”

Louisiana fell behind 14-0 early and trailed 21-7 in the third quarter before rallying behind running back Elijah Mitchell. He rushed for 164 yards, including a 12-yard jaunt for the winning touchdown in overtime.

Napier called the slow start “a teachable moment.”

“I’m proud of the resiliency we showed in the second half,” Napier said. “I think we’ve got resolve.”

The Eagles’ resiliency and resolve are also being tested. They won their opener against Campbell, 27-26, two weeks ago despite 33 players being sidelined for a variety of reasons, some COVID-19-related.

Georgia Southern was unable to play last week because its opponent, Florida Atlantic, had to postpone the game because of COVID-related absences.

“That 33 number was not all COVID-related,” Georgia Southern coach Chad Lunsford said of the season opener. “Some of it was COVID, a lot of it was contact tracing. Then there were other factors like normal injuries.

“We definitely didn’t field the team we thought we would field as far as the experience, but I think it was really good with our young guys getting that opportunity. Last week we were looking forward to several guys returning. Every team in the country is dealing with (COVID-19) and dealing with it in their own way,” Lunsford said.

The Eagles are on track to get “a majority” of those players back for this week’s game, he said.

“It would have been really good for us to be able to get that second game in because we had a lot of things to clean up from that first week,” he said. “We could have used that second game to help a little bit. There are definitely challenges there.”

The latest challenge is Louisiana.

“You don’t really see a weak link,” Lunsford said of the Cajuns. “They really got after Iowa State and pretty much controlled that whole football game, and when they got down against Georgia State, you never saw any panic.”

–Field Level Media