STATESBORO, Ga. - You check the scoreboard, the sideline markers. It's third down, and if you don't make the necessary yardage, it could be time to punt.
"Third down is do-or-die time. That's how we look at it," said Georgia Southern quarterback Chaz Williams. "When third down comes, it's critical. It's our job to score points."
Williams and his teammates might be up for a promotion soon because of how they've handled third-down situations this season. The Eagles have converted 47.4 percent of their third-down plays into first downs - up from 38.2 percent a year ago.
Third-down conversions often lead to another thing - points - and the Eagles (5-2, 4-1 Southern Conference) are scoring just two points a game fewer than their high-powered 2001 squad. They go for their fifth straight Southern Conference win at The Citadel (2-5, 1-3) today.
The Eagles' increased third-down success might be more amazing considering they have a first-year starter at quarterback, a first-year head coach and a new offensive coordinator.
As the season has grown, so has the team's third-down efficiency. In the past four games, the Eagles are just under 60 percent on third down, a major reason they have scored nearly 42 points a game during that span.
"The last three or four weeks, we've gotten the defenses (unsuccessfully) trying to figure out what we're going to do," coach Mike Sewak said.
This year's team might be one of the most diverse Georgia Southern has ever had. In three of the seven games, three Eagles have rushed for more than 100 yards.
Williams, sometimes underrated as a passer, has been effective throwing for first downs. Seventeen of his 28 completions this season have moved the chains.
None was bigger than the 62-yarder he completed to Zzream Walden on Saturdayto get the Eagles started against Appalachian State.
"We're still more of a run team on any down," said offensive coordinator Mitch Ware. "To me, the key to third-down conversions is how hard it is. If you're on schedule offensively, you shouldn't have many third-and-longs."
This week, The Citadel coach Ellis Johnson looks at Georgia Southern's third-down offensive efficiency and his team's third-down defensive deficiencies and sees problems.
Teams have converted 55 percent of their third-down plays against the Bulldogs, who are last in the league in third-down conversion defense.
"Third down (plays) are important in any game against any team," Johnson said. "If we can't keep their team off the field, it's going to be a long day."
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