ASU's Jones expects few changes from Georgia Southern

Georgia Southern quarterback Justin Tomlin (17) runs the ball against Arkansas during the first half Sept. 18 in Fayetteville. Arkansas State visits Georgia Southern on Saturday.

JONESBORO — Butch Jones is concerned with what Georgia Southern has shown on video, not what the Eagles might do after a coaching change.

Georgia Southern fired head coach Chad Lunsford on Sunday, four games into his fourth full season in charge of the team. Cornerbacks coach Kevin Whitley was named interim head coach of the Eagles, who host Arkansas State on Saturday.

Jones, ASU’s first-year head coach, doesn’t expect to see any changes out of the ordinary from the opposition in the Red Wolves’ Sun Belt Conference opener.

“They’re going to be who they are. They are who they are. There may be some little nuances here or there, some wrinkles that we face every week with a game-plan situation,” Jones said during his weekly press conference. “They do what they do and they do it well, so why would you change? We’re anticipating what we see on video. That’s what we expect. You always have to be able to adapt and adjust as the game goes on.”

Lunsford was fired the day after the Eagles suffered a 28-20 loss to Louisiana-Lafayette in their Sun Belt opener. He was 28-21 at Georgia Southern, including a 16-14 mark over the last two-plus seasons.

Whitley is a former Georgia Southern All-American who played on two Division I-AA national championship teams. He was a successful high school coach in Georgia before joining Lunsford’s staff at Georgia Southern in 2019.

Asked about possible changes during Monday’s Sun Belt teleconference, Whitley said it was early in the process to give a detailed answer.

“We definitely want to do what we do and get better,” Whitley said. “There will be some changes here or there, but overall we just want to be a better football team and get better on the fundamentals.”

Georgia Southern opened the season with a 30-25 victory over Gardner-Webb. The Eagles have since lost three in a row to Florida Atlantic (38-6), eighth-ranked Arkansas (45-10) and UL Lafayette.

Gerald Green rushed for 186 yards and three touchdowns last Saturday as the Eagles finished with a 453-378 advantage in total yards, including a 278-129 advantage in rushing yards, but the Cajuns’ Levi Lewis threw three touchdown passes and UL Lafayette held on downs at its 38-yard line in the final minute.

“I think when you look at Georgia Southern, they’re really again a byproduct of scheduling,” Jones said. “They’ve played some really, really talented football teams and when you’re at this level, the way you start a lot of times is a byproduct of your scheduling. They’re a good football team.”

Doug Ruse, ASU’s offensive coordinator from 2002-09, is in his second stint as the Eagles’ offensive coordinator. Running an option-based scheme, Georgia Southern averages 233 rushing yards per game. The Eagles pass for only 127.2 yards per game, however, and have scored just 36 points against three FBS foes.

The Eagles have used three starting quarterbacks, with Justin Tomlin behind center for the last two games. Tomlin scored on a 76-yard run for Georgia Southern’s only touchdown at Arkansas.

Jones said Georgia Southern’s scheme challenges a defense’s discipline.

“I think one of the hardest things to do is simulate the speed of the option in practice. You can walk through it, you can do scout teams, but the ability to really execute game-speed reps and quick decisions with your eye control and your discipline makes it an exceptional challenge,” Jones said. “You have to be able to tackle in space and they’re able to throw the football. They have great play passes off all their base run plays. If they see you’re having a lack of discipline with your eye control, you’re going to get the ball thrown over your head.”

Georgia Southern has lost three defensive starters to season-ending injuries, including preseason All-Sun Belt cornerback Derrick Canteen.

Jones is especially impressed with Georgia Southern nose guard C.J. Wright and outside linebacker Randy Wade, both of whom are on the Senior Bowl watch list.

“Defensively, they make you execute. They’re going to make you drive the ball. They’re not going to beat themselves,” Jones said. “I think the nose guard, C.J. Wright, is as good of a player as we play. He can change the game. Randy Wade is as good of a player as we’ve faced as well.”