The answer to the primary question that swirled around the William and Mary-Georgia Southern playoff matchup: Not very well; poorly, you might say.
Much oxygen and many synapses were devoted to figuring how the Tribe defense would fare against Georgia Southern's triple option, an unusual offense in the present landscape of spreads and pass-happy systems.
The Eagles provided a lesson in offensive execution and desire Saturday in a 31-15 win that felt more lopsided than the final score.
Put it this way: When William and Mary's offense outscores its defense only 9-6, it isn't likely to be a good day.
The No. 4 rushing attack in FCS went record book perusal, and not in a good way for William and Mary. Georgia Southern's 423 rushing yards marked the first time that the Tribe had surrendered more than 400 on the ground since Furman went for a whopping 509 back in the last century – 1999, to be precise.
"It's a tough offense to stop," Tribe linebacker Dante Cook said, "but eventually you just have to get off the field, and I don't think we did a good job of that. They converted a lot of third downs, and we didn't particularly make plays on third down like we have all year."
Four Georgia Southern backs netted at least 60 yards, led by freshman Robert Brown's 178 yards. The Eagles averaged a robust 7.2 yards per carry and converted 7 of 12 times on third down.
The carnage was especially gruesome in the second half. Despite an uneven first half on both sides of the ball, William and Mary still managed a 15-14 halftime lead, courtesy of three Drake Kuhn field goals and linebacker Evan Francks' pick-six in the second quarter.
But on the first play of the third quarter, Darreion Robinson took an option pitch 44 yards down the left sideline into W&M territory. Four plays later, quarterback Jaybo Shaw went the final 18 yards on an option keeper for the go-ahead touchdown, and the Eagles were off.
Georgia Southern outgained the Tribe 156-16 in the third quarter and held a 2-to-1 advantage in time of possession in the second half. The Eagles' four second-half possession went like this: touchdown; field goal; touchdown; end-game runout.
"Defensively, we got outplayed badly in the second half," Francks said. "I don't know if they changed their scheme or what, but it felt like for some reason we didn't have our assignments down. Just something wasn't clicking.
"At the end of the first half we definitely had confidence. We felt like we had 'em kind of down – some of their stuff. But I guess their coaches get paid to coach, too, so maybe they changed some things, I'm not really sure."
Georgia Southern has won six FCS (formerly Division I-AA) national championships, though none since 2000. The Eagles haven't advanced past the first round since 2002.
Seeking a return to those lofty days, the school administration hired Jeff Monken, who assisted Paul Johnson for 13 years – at Georgia Southern, Navy and Georgia Tech. One of Monken's first tasks was re-installing the triple option, a Georgia Southern staple in its championship days, that he learned and operated under Johnson.
Saturday's rushing output was Georgia Southern's second-highest all season, bettered only by 431 yards in the season opener against woeful Savannah State. Still, Monken "aw, shucks'ed" his way through an assessment of the offensive performance.
"We're not into looking at stats and (saying), 'This was our best game,' or whatever," he said. "We won the game. I'm glad we won the football game. It wouldn't have mattered what the score was or how much we rushed for.
"Our defense played awesome. What a great second half. You guys all saw it. The offense did enough to win the football game in the second half. We got points. The defense did enough, too. We didn't allow them to have any. It's a great team effort."
Indeed, the Eagles' defense harassed Tribe quarterback Mike Callahan into a 16-for-34 game, and the W&M offense never found a rhythm. Four trips into the red zone resulted in three field goals and a turnover on downs. Whether that was Georgia Southern defense or the fact that the Tribe didn't possess the ball in the second half is a chicken-and-egg debate.
What's not up for debate is Georgia Southern's effectiveness running the ball.
"We had to do our jobs and at times we messed it up," Tribe defensive end Marcus Hyde said. "We didn't do what we were supposed to do, and they're a good team. They'll capitalize on that all day."
Dave Fairbank can be reached at 247-4637 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more from Fairbank, read his blog at dailypress.com/fromthetarpit.