Young Georgia Southern quarterback struggles in 41-7 loss to Auburn

AUBURN, Ala — Shai Werts felt the pressure before it even got to him. He’d take his eyes off the field and tuck and run at the first sign of perceived trouble, and more often than not he had nowhere to go.

 

This was, of course, on third down because the Georgia Southern running game was nonexistent.

Georgia Southern’s offensive line struggled against the defensive front of No. 12 Auburn, and the Eagles’ new triple-option played like a hangover from last season as the Tigers cruised to a 41-7 win at Jordan-Hare Stadium on Saturday.

The Eagles (0-1) gained just seven first downs, went 0 for 15 on third down conversions, and allowed Werts to be sacked five times. Georgia Southern finished with just 78 yards of offense to Auburn’s 535, including 351 rushing yards. Not even in 2016 did the Eagles look so hapless. Their lowest output last year was 159 yards against Appalachian State.

A 19-year-old redshirt freshman struggling on the big stage in his first collegiate game isn’t surprising. What was more surprising was a veteran offensive line failing to open up holes in the running game and allowing Auburn’s defense to come after Werts on third down.

It’s already hard enough to play your first game in an environment like Auburn, but it became that much more difficult when Werts was forced to drop back to throw on third-and-long repeatedly throughout the game.

The Georgia Southern defense may be what carries this team until the offense can work out the kinks, but even that unit could only do so much against a prolific Tigers offense. The Eagles held the Tigers to field-goal attempts on their first two drives, and Auburn kicker Daniel Carlson missed the second attempt.

But it was three-and-out for Georgia Southern, and eventually Auburn running back Kerryon Johnson broke free down the sideline, racing 60 yards to the end zone untouched.

The Eagles’ defense still did all it could to get Georgia Southern back into it. Jay Bowdry intercepted heralded Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham with 5:11 left in the first quarter, then linebacker Chris DeLaRosa sacked Stidham to force a fumble, which was recovered by linebacker Tomarcio Reese, who with open field in front of him took it for a 22-yard score, cutting the lead to 10-7.

But it was three-and-out for Georgia Southern, and Auburn’s offense wouldn’t wait around for the Eagles. Stidham scored from 14 yards on an option keeper in the second quarter, then Kam Martin looked to catch the defense out of place. He caught the GS linebackers out of position and zoomed to a 36-yard touchdown.

After trailing 24-7 at halftime, the Eagles received and went three-and-out for the seventh time in the game, setting up the Tigers to march back down the field to cap of a nine-play, 61-yard drive that ended in a Stidham touchdown pass to Ryan Davis.

Trailing 34-7 in the fourth quarter, Georgia Southern strung together its best drive of the game and was left with a fourth-and-goal decision at the 2-yard line, but a screen pass from Werts to Wesley Fields was blown up for a loss of 3 yards. Auburn then drove the length of the field for its final TD of the night.

Werts appears to be the guy for Georgia Southern, and Saturday’s outcome was never going to change that. Even in a blowout, Werts never came out of the game.

Now the question is whether this was just one game with a young quarterback in a tough environment or if the product displayed was eerily similar to last season.

 

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