The first half of the GoDaddy Bowl was a back-and-forth shootout. The second half was anything but.
Georgia Southern scored 35 unanswered second half points to race by Bowling Green, claiming a 58-27 victory Wednesday night in Mobile, Ala.
Bowling Green led at the half by a score of 27-23 after Matt Johnson fired three touchdown passes and Travis Greene rushed in from five yards out with 36 ticks left before the break. But the Eagles broke the game open by scoring touchdowns on their first four second half drives, the first two traveling 75 and 80 yards and the third just 14 after a Johnson fumble deep in his own territory.
Favian Upshaw notched the first two scores on a three-yard plunge that culminated a 14-play drive, and the second an 80-yard bolt immediately after the Georgia Southern defense forced a turnover on downs at its own 20. After the fumble, Upshaw’s 13-yard run set Matt Breida up for a one-yard dash that gave the Eagles a 45-27 lead with 1:51 to play in the third quarter.
Johnson fumbled again deep in his own territory on the ensuing possession, and Upshaw again capitalized on an eight-yard sprint that pushed the advantage to 51-27 just five seconds into the fourth quarter. Upshaw provided the capper with a 42-yard voyage to the end zone with 5:25 left to play in the game.
Upshaw closed the day with 12 rushes for 199 yards and four touchdowns; he also completed one of three pass attempts for 17 yards. Kevin Ellison started the game at quarterback and completed 3-of-5 passes for 65 yards and the team’s fourth passing touchdown of the season, a 31-yarder to Montay Crockett that gave Georgia Southern a 23-20 lead with 1:27 left in the first half.
For the day, Georgia Southern — who entered bowl season with the nation’s top rushing offense at nearly 356 yards per game — pounded out 68 carries for 452 yards and seven touchdowns. Unbelievably, neither were season highs. The Eagles rushed for 507 yards and seven scores in a 56-26 destruction of New Mexico State on Oct. 17.
Johnson completed a pedestrian 15-of-34 passes for 246 yards with three touchdowns and two costly fumbles. He entered Wednesday night as FBS’s second-leading passer, averaging 361.5 yards per game and 68.8 percent completions. Georgia Southern held All-American wide receiver Roger Lewis to just three catches for 68 yards and a touchdown, close to half his season averages for catches and yards.
Georgia Southern also held Bowling Green to 116 rushing yards, nearly 80 below its yearly average.
The win closes Georgia Southern’s second FBS season with a 9-4 mark and a bowl victory in its first season eligible for postseason competition. The Eagles went 9-3 a year ago and claimed the Sun Belt championship, but were not eligible for a bowl game due to their transitional status. Bowling Green closed its MAC championship season at 10-4.
Both teams lost their head coaches earlier this month: Bowling Green’s Dino Babers departed for Syracuse while Georgia Southern’s Willie Fritz left for Tulane. Each program will now move forward under their new head coaches — Mike Jinks for Bowling Green, Tyson Summers for Georgia Southern — with their 2015 seasons officially behind them.