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NATHAN DEEN: Heat on Georgia Southern after loss to FCS program

Georgia Southern head coach Tyson Summers calls in defensive players in the game against Auburn on Sept. 2, 2017 in Auburn, Ala. (Brynn Anderson/AP Photo)

After losing 41-7 to Auburn a little over a week ago, head coach Tyson Summers made a firm statement about Shai Werts, his redshirt freshman quarterback.

 

“Shai Werts is our quarterback,” he told a group of reporters in Auburn, Alabama.

It was the right thing to say at the time, and it was the right decision to let Werts play the second half, even though he took a beating at the hands of the Auburn defense. You keep him in there to instill confidence in him that he’s the guy.

Nobody factored the possibility of losing to New Hampshire into the equation. Because you didn’t think it was a possibility.

So there Summers was on Saturday in Birmingham, Alabama, facing a 22-0 halftime deficit to an FCS team. Georgia Southern’s offense had been lifeless since its opening drive down the field ended in a turnover. The same question stared him down: keep in Werts or bench him for Kado Brown or LaBaron Anthony?

At his own peril, Summers stayed true to his words, to live or die by Werts.

It made perfect sense against Auburn. It made none whatsoever against New Hampshire. That decision alone may eventually kill Summers’ career at Georgia Southern. The Eagles lost 22-12, their first defeat to an FCS team as an FBS program.

So, how about that Georgia Southern men’s basketball team?

Two weeks into the 2017 football season, and Georgia Southern is finished. The season is over. The Eagles shouldn’t be thinking about a bowl game this year. They should be thinking about trying to win a game. Heck, they should be worried about just trying to score a touchdown. They have one in just eight quarters of play.

I wrote in my column last week that New Hampshire would be the barometer that clearly puts everything into perspective about where Georgia Southern is as a program. Now we have our answer, and the fan base won’t be fond of it. Georgia Southern is an FCS team playing in the FBS right now, and there is absolutely no reason to think that it will win a game this year. Along with perhaps UMass, New Hampshire was the easiest opponent on Georgia Southern’s schedule. Lopsided losses to Arkansas State, Troy, and, yes, Appalachian State once again should be expected.

I say FCS team in the sense that the Eagles are playing like one right now. New Hampshire isn’t more talented than Georgia Southern, not by a long shot. Talent isn’t the problem. It certainly wasn’t the problem last year. You’ve got what, four guys from last year’s team who have made NFL rosters? So what’s going on? How did Georgia Southern get here? How is it that we hear all this great preseason stuff — the great new coaching staff on offense and the improvement in conditioning — and then Georgia Southern goes out and loses to New Hampshire?

When my dad plays golf, he tells me he’ll warm up on the practice range and hit it straight as an arrow. As soon as he gets up to the first tee, he duck hooks the ball into the woods and never hits a good shot again the rest of the day. He can’t transfer what he’s doing on the range to the course. He told me the other day that he was just going to stop warming up on the range. I told him that’s what I’ve been doing for years. When you triple bogey the first hole, at least you can say you didn’t warm up.

Team’s mindset

The point is, it’s a mental thing. Georgia Southern — and I got this vibe last year — just doesn’t show up ready to play. And we might be dangerously close to the point where the players don’t believe they can win. Did you notice that Saturday? Maybe I’m wrong, but from the outside looking in, I got the sense the Eagles had accepted defeat when they fell behind 22-0. I got the impression the game was over on the Wildcats’ first touchdown, when they caught the Eagles napping on a two-point conversion for an 8-0 lead.

Georgia Southern never showed one sign that it was going to come back after that. It’s because the players don’t know how to. It’s because they still have no identity. It’s because they have no confidence that what they’re doing will work.

All of those things stem from the top. Coaching issues trickle down to the players. The players are always a reflection of what’s going on with the coaches.

So if your mindset is to come out in the second half down 22-0 and continue to play a young quarterback who isn’t going to grow up fast enough to win the game at hand, you shouldn’t be surprised to have a team full of players who don’t believe they can win. It was as if Summers kept Werts in the game for the same reason he did at Auburn — pack in the loss and hope he gets some good experience. Build for the future.

But this was New Hampshire, and when you’re on the hot seat, you can’t lose to New Hampshire. You have to do whatever is necessary to keep that from happening, including trying someone else at quarterback.

There’s a future at Georgia Southern with Werts leading the offense, but with Summers’ decision to play him in the second half Saturday, he may not be around long enough to see it.

Nathan Deen covers Georgia Southern athletics for the Savannah Morning News. Contact him at 912-652-0353 and nathan.deen@savannahnow.com. Follow him on Twitter @NathanDeenSMN.

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