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Playoff preview: Georgia Southern at Delaware

By Andrew Gaddess, FCS Assistant

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -

FCS SEMIFINALS:(20) GEORGIA SOUTHERN AT (5) DELAWARE

Kickoff: Saturday, December 18, noon (et)

Facts & stats: Site: Tubby Raymond Field at Delaware Stadium (22,000) - Newark, Delaware. Surface: FieldTurf. Television: ESPN U. Announcers: Pam Ward, Danny Kanell. Home Record: Georgia Southern 4-2; Delaware 8-1. Away Record: Georgia Southern 6-2; Delaware 3-1. Series Record: Tied (2-2). Last Meeting: August 29, 2002 (Delaware, 22-19 at Delaware). Series Streak: Georgia Southern has won two of the last three meetings. Conference: Georgia Southern - Southern; Delaware - Colonial Athletic Association. Nicknames: Georgia Southern Eagles; Delaware Blue Hens. The Sports Network/Fathead.com Ranking: Georgia Southern (20); Delaware (5). Head Coaches: Jeff Monken (9-4 at Georgia Southern at Overall); Delaware - K.C. Keeler (73-41 at Delaware, 161-62-1 Overall). All-Time Record: Georgia Southern (328-180-10); Delaware - (650-414-44). Playoff Records: Georgia Southern (41-10); Delaware (21-13). Previous FCS Playoff Appearances: Georgia Southern 16 (1985-90, 93, 95, 97-99, 2000-02, 04-05); Delaware 14 (1981-82, 86, 88, 91-93, 95-97, 2000, 03-04, 07).

What to know: Championship aspirations collide in Newark, Delaware, Saturday as the Georgia Southern Eagles square off against the Delaware Blue Hens.

The Eagles have been on a tear over the last month and a half, including wins through the first three rounds of the playoffs over South Carolina State, William & Mary and, most recently, Wofford.

GSU defeated its Southern Conference rival Wofford, 23-20, and as in weeks past, it was the defense that delivered the victory. The Eagles built an early 17-0 lead behind two Wofford turnovers. The initial score - a 25-yard touchdown reception by Tray Butler - was set up after the defense recovered a Wofford fumble on its 20-yard line. Following the score, defensive end John Douglass scooped up a fumble on the first play of Wofford's ensuing drive and rumbled into the end zone to put the Eagles up 14-0. The Eagles held the nation's best rushing team to just 183 yards and zero rushing touchdowns on 3.5 ypc.

With Wofford dispatched, Georgia Southern now holds serve as the best active running team in the FCS (261.5 ypg). In their second-round matchup against William & Mary, the Eagles racked up 423 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns. True freshman Robert Brown ran for 178 yards and a touchdown in the win. Brown has benefited from the Eagles' conversion to the triple option under first-year head coach Jeff Monken. He has run for 955 yards and needs just 45 yards against Delaware to become the first Georgia Southern true freshman to rush for 1,000 yards since Joe Ross in 1987.

Quarterback Jaybo Shaw also has thrived in the run-heavy attack. He led the team with 60 rushing yards against Wofford, while also throwing for 78 yards and a touchdown. He has run for an impressive 504 yards and 16 touchdowns this year.

The Blue Hens advanced to the semis with wins over Lehigh and New Hampshire. The defense was its typical stingy self against UNH. The FCS' No. 1 scoring defense (11.62 ppg) allowed just one first-quarter field goal in the 16-3 victory at Tubby Raymond Field. Entering the contest, New Hampshire had scored 28 or more points in six of its previous seven games.

A perfect compliment to the reliable defense, quarterback Pat Devlin controlled the action as he surpassed the 200-yard mark for the seventh straight game with 261 passing yards and two touchdowns. Freshman sensation Andrew Pierce continued his eye-popping season, running for 90 yards on 23 carries.

Still, the Blue Hens have gotten this far largely because of their spectacular team defense. It may not be the No-Name Defense of the undefeated '72 Dolphins, but this unit is deserving of the moniker. Paul Worrilow paces the team with 92 tackles and linebacker Matt Marcorelle provides veteran leadership, while Anthony Walters has recorded seven picks, but the group plays its best as one large, swarming entity. The Blue Hens play smart, disciplined, team defense and it produces results.

Which raises an interesting question: How smart and disciplined can a defense be when facing an unfamiliar and unusual attack?

The Blue Hens will find out Saturday when Georgia Southern and the triple option roll into town. It is safe to say that Delaware hasn't faced an attack like the Eagles' all season. The last time the Blue Hens faced a comparable attack was November 14, 2009, when they encountered Navy. The Midshipmen racked up 242 rushing yards in their 35-18 victory.

Preparing for the triple option on short notice can prove disastrous. Just ask Delaware's CAA rival William & Mary, which was ousted by GSU in the second round.

The Eagles have not lost since a 20-13 setback to Samford on October 30 and began their current six-game win streak the following week with a 21-14 overtime triumph over then-No. 1 Appalachian State.

Prediction: Georgia Southern 21, Delaware 17

12/16 08:06:21 ET