There's something bubbling under the surface in Statesboro, Ga., and it's not Beautiful Eagle Creek.
With the firing of defensive coordinator Rusty Russell in the off-season after a disappointing 7-4 record, head coach Mike Sewak upset the man who built Georgia Southern into a national power: Erk Russell. The well-respected legend penned a letter earlier this year stating his intention to sever ties with the program after, he believed, his son was unjustly axed.
Sewak now has work to do to regain the respect of the Georgia Southern faithful. Winning the Southern Conference and returning to the Division I-AA playoffs would be a good start.
Here are five questions to ponder before the Eagles begin their season Sept. 4 at Georgia:
1. What does Mike Sewak need to do to keep his job? Some observers are saying Georgia Southern absolutely has to beat Wofford and make the playoffs. After all, the school has fired coaches for less. Tim Stowers, who led the Eagles to a national title, was given the heave-ho after the Eagles went 9-4 in 1995 and advanced to the Division I-AA quarterfinals.
Sewak probably needs to win the Southern Conference title as well, after finishing third in the league in '03.
2. Who is Joe Tresey? Tresey replaced the fired Rusty Russell as defensive coordinator in January. Last season, the Eagles' defense allowed 21.1 points and 351 total yards per game.
Tresey served at Akron the past two seasons. He helped lead the Zips to a plus-0.58 turnover margin in 2003, but Akron also allowed 29.4 points and 404 total yards a game.
3. Will quarterback Chaz Williams return to his 2002 Southern Conference Offensive Player of the Year form? Yes. After a stellar sophomore campaign in which Williams rushed for 1,400 yards and threw for another 1,000, he suffered through an injury-plagued junior season. Williams managed just 800 total yards while missing three games with a torn right lateral meniscus.
In the off-season, Williams rehabbed and lost weight, slimming down to 207 pounds. Southern Conference football coaches believe Williams will have a solid season, naming him to the preseason all-conference first team.
4. Can fullback Jermaine Austin (above) repeat last season's performance? Austin led the Southern Conference in rushing with 1,461 yards. Shortly after the season, he was arrested for a DUI. Since then, he's rededicated himself to football.
Listed on the spring practice roster at 5-foot-8, 205 pounds, Austin worked out all summer with the trainer of former NFL great Art Monk. Austin is believed to be, some observers say, up to 218 pounds, while running a 4.48 in the 40.
5. Does Georgia Southern have a chance to beat Georgia? No. Staying healthy will be priority No. 1. Keeping the game within 40 points should be goal No. 2.
- Chris Gay
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