10:06am: Talkline with Hoppy Kercheval

Even with 2nd-string quarterback, Georgia Southern’s a tricky opener

Georgia Southern reserve quarterback Favian Upshaw (13) finds running room during a 42-38 near-upset of Georgia Tech last season.



MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Georgia Southern will face West Virginia without starting quarterback and 1,000-yard rusher Kevin Ellison, who ran into academic troubles and a two-game suspension Wednesday.

Such news typically would dead-end a mid-major’s upset hopes on the road, but the spread-option Eagles aren’t typical. And though their backup quarterback hasn’t started a game since September 2011—his senior year of high school in Titusville, Fla.—Favian Upshaw made 11 appearances as a redshirt sophomore, sometimes in meaningful situations.

Upshaw completed 19-of-27 passes for 285 yards with two touchdowns and one interception, and he ran 40 times for 385 yards (9.6 per carry). Just watch his burst on this 46-yard keeper in the season finale:

So rarely is the option used these days that West Virginia’s defensive staff started game-planning for it during the first week of fall camp. That’s way earlier than they started preparing for Alabama last year. Tony Gibson certainly noticed that Georgia Southern’s misdirection and quick-pitch gap attacks can gash defenses, regardless who’s playing quarterback.

A former three-star recruit, Upshaw was more highly regarded than Ellison. But he missed most of his senior prep season with a knee injury and redshirted at Florida International in 2012. Then came a transfer year in 2013 as he settled in at Georgia Southern.

When Ellison suffered a shoulder injury with GSU leading Georgia Tech in the fourth quarter last season, Upshaw was 6-of-12 passing and gained 20 yards on his first two carries. While marching the Eagles toward an insurance score, however, he was stripped at the Jackets’ 28, and Tech rallied for the victory.

No team’s quarterbacks are entirely interchangeable, though Georgia Southern’s come close. Should Upshaw absorb a pounding against West Virginia’s veteran defense, the Eagles can turn to Monteo Garrett, who anchored the Alabama state-champion 4×100 relay team. Then there’s another QB, who with a name like Vegas Harley, sounds even faster.

Second-year coach Willie Fritz is a run-game savant who, at age 55, is enjoying the spoils of his slow-and-steady climb through the ranks of junior college, Division II and FCS. His first Eagles team, in their first FBS season, went 8-0 in the Sun Belt. Nothing slow about that.

We’ll see what type of encore he has in store when West Virginia and Georgia Southern face off at 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 5.

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