North Dakota State, the Eagles’ semifinal opponent in the FCS playoffs, won’t be taken completely by surprise Friday night. The top-seeded Bison are coming off a 14-7 quarterfinal victory over another option team, Wofford.
North Dakota State (12-1) didn’t completely stop the option, but it held the Terriers’ offense scoreless. Wofford, which ran for 262 yards, scored its lone touchdown on an interception return.
“I’m sure it benefits them having to defend an option team,” Georgia Southern coach Jeff Monken said.
However, Georgia Southern is the FCS’ top ground team, averaging 409.2 yards a game. The Eagles, behind junior quarterback Jerick McKinnon, have been steadily improving offensively.
Southern had 602 rushing yards in a 49-35 quarterfinal victory over Old Dominion. McKinnon has run for 1,056 yards and 14 touchdowns in his past six games.
Last season, the Eagles also advertised a lethal running game but managed just 186 yards on the ground in a 35-7 loss to the Bison.
ALL-AMERICAN EAGLES: Senior defensive tackle Brent Russell and offensive right tackle Garrett Frye earned All-America honors from The Sports Network on Monday.
Russell garnered first-team honors after recording 39 tackles with 7.5 tackles for losses and 3.5 sacks.
Frye received third-team honors after starting every game for a unit that led the FCS in rushing.
SWOPE STATUS: Monken said sophomore fullback Dominique Swope suffered a thigh bruise against Old Dominion but is expected to be in the lineup against North Dakota State.
Swope ran for 186 yards and two touchdowns against the Monarchs but missed a key series in the fourth quarter. He returned later in the game and scored the tie-breaking touchdown on a 12-yard run with 2:36 left.
Swope is Southern’s second-leading rusher with 1,169 yards this season.
KICKING WOES: Disappointed with the recent placekicking problems, Monken said he’ll open up the job again this week and take the best kicker to Fargo.
Freshman Alex Hanks has struggled making just 7 of 17 kicks after taking over for Ryan Nowicki, who made just 1 of 3 kicks.
In the past five games, GSU has made just one field-goal try successfully.
Things have been so desperate that Monken used punter Luke Cherry on a 30-yard field-goal try against Old Dominion. Cherry missed.
“We have to be able to get some points out of field goals,” Monken said. “I believe we have the kids who can do it but there’s something happening between the extra points and field goals. (Hanks) is a talented kid. We just have to get him right.”
THIS AND THAT: The Eagles will play on Friday night for the first time in school history and for just the fourth time on a day other than Saturday. … McKinnon’s 1,649 rushing yards rank fourth on the school’s single-season rushing record. He is 283 yards shy of tying Adrian Peterson’s school mark of 1,932 rushing yards in a season. … Georgia Southern’s defense leads the Southern Conference in sacks. Defensive ends Javon Mention (6.5 sacks) and Dion DuBose (5.5 sacks) rank fourth and seventh in the league. … Senior linebacker John Stevenson needs just one more tackle to reach 100 tackles for the season. Russell needs a half sack to become the school’s career sack leader. He is tied with Edward Thomas (1993-96) with 24 sacks. … Thirteen graduating Eagles will miss the school’s graduation ceremonies in Statesboro on Friday.