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Kevin Schnepf, Published December 05 2013

Schnepf: Georgia Southern coach knows Furman is in for a challenge

Fargo - Head coach Jeff Monken wishes he were in the Fargodome this week. Instead, he was in his office in Statesboro, Ga., conducting exit interviews with his Georgia Southern football players.

Instead of gearing up for a run at a fourth straight FCS semifinal game appearance, Georgia Southern’s season is over. Making the transition to big-boy football, Monken’s team was ineligible for the playoffs this year.

No chance for an FCS title. No chance to play in a third straight semifinal game in the Fargodome.

Instead of Georgia Southern representing the Southern Conference, it will be Furman University of Greenville, S.C., playing in the Fargodome for Saturday’s FCS second-round game.

“I’ve coached in a lot of great venues during my career, but there is no place louder than the Fargodome,” Monken said. “There is no verbal communication whatsoever when you are down on that field. It’s unbelievable. It’s the best atmosphere in college football – at any level.”

Saturday, that noise will be pounding down on Furman – the surprise team of the Southern Conference that handed Georgia Southern a 16-14 loss in Statesboro this season.

Furman beat Georgia Southern in much the same manner as it beat six of its last seven opponents: cashing in on turnovers. Furman turned three Georgia Southern turnovers into scores.

In the last seven games, Furman has a 20-7 edge in turnover margin. It ranks seventh nationally in that category.

“Furman has always been a very disciplined, fundamentally sound football team,” Monken said. “They are not overly talented. They are just a good football team.”

In other words, Furman needs to create more turnovers if it hopes to knock off the two-time defending national champion on Saturday. And turnovers were the reason for NDSU’s only two losses in its last 41 games.

That’s why Monken had to say this about the Bison:

“They are not going to get beat,” he said matter-of-factly. “The only team that is going to beat North Dakota State is North Dakota State.”

Monken’s Georgia Southern team had two chances to beat the Bison. But in 2011, a close game in the second-half turned into a 35-7 Bison win. And last year in arguably the most memorable playoff game in Bison history, NDSU needed a late touchdown and a missed Georgia Southern field goal in the final seconds to escape with a 23-20 win.

Monken would have loved nothing better than getting another shot at the Bison this season. But those desires ended last spring when Georgia Southern announced it was moving up to the FBS “big boy” level.

Since then, motivating players with basically nothing to play for has been difficult. Throw in the fact that 19 scholarship players had their seasons end with injuries. It has been what Monken described as “a really odd year.”

“Our guys were really hungry for another opportunity to make a run in the playoffs and play in the Fargodome again,” Monke said. “Then you get the rug flipped out from underneath you. When you take away that carrot at the end of the year, sometimes you lose that competitive edge.”

Nonetheless, Georgia Southern ended its 7-4 season with a stunning 26-20 win at Florida. It was fun for awhile, until Monken and his players realized that was their final game of the year.

No playoffs. No Fargodome. No NDSU.

“I really hope North Dakota State makes the move to the next level because they would be an outstanding program at that level,” Monke said. “I think North Dakota State is one of the best football programs in the nation, at any level. And I think Coach (Craig) Bohl is one of the best coaches in the nation, at any level.”

High praise. But compliments Bison coaches and players will try to shrug off for now.

They are telling themselves that Furman, much like Wofford last year, is capable of winning Saturday. Perhaps more importantly, they are telling themselves not to beat themselves.


Readers can reach Forum Sports Editor Kevin Schnepf at (701) 241-5549

or kschnepf@forumcomm.com