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Southern 'starting over' against No. 1 Dogs
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Chris Hatcher took out his two-deep depth chart Monday and circled the players who have never played for Georgia Southern.

The coach then took a deep breath and started counting. It took a while.

Of the 22 first- and second-string players on offense, Hatcher counted 17 who have never played for Georgia Southern. On defense, Hatcher stopped counting at 13.

Hatcher said he can’t predict how so many newcomers will respond to the challenge of playing their first game at No. 1 Georgia on Saturday.

"I don’t know how they’re going to react, if we were playing in front of 92,000 or in front of 4,000," Hatcher said in a telephone interview. "I just don’t know. I wish I did. I sure would sleep better at night."

Hatcher, hired from Valdosta State a year ago, took a team that won three games in 2006 and crafted a dramatic turnaround. Georgia Southern finished 7-4, including an upset win at Appalachian State to end the Mountaineers’ 30-game home winning streak. The Eagles were in the Southern Conference race until late in the season.

The "Hatch Attack" was a big hit in Statesboro, but some of the key players on the 2007 team are gone.

Most notably, Hatcher lost star quarterback Jayson Foster, who rushed for 1,844 yards to set an NCAA record for quarterbacks, and all five starting offensive linemen.

The losses to graduation were severe.

Then Hatcher announced the suspensions of eight players last week, including two projected starters on defense, for the game. Three of the eight also must sit out next week’s home opener against Austin Peay.

Hatcher said Monday he entered preseason practice knowing he would take the disciplinary action against the eight players, so he said it’s not as if he has had to make late adjustments for the Georgia game.

"We had already been planning on it," Hatcher said. "It just was announced last week. We’re right where we want to be."

Hatcher suspended projected starting linebacker Terrione Benefield and defensive back Ronnie Wiggins for undisclosed rules violations. Defensive lineman Damon Suggs, a 2007 starter and second-team All-Southern Conference pick, and Raja Andrews, one of the team’s top receivers and return specialists, also were suspended.

Hatcher wouldn’t discuss the specifics of the suspensions on Monday.

The losses to graduation have combined with the suspensions to leave Hatcher with a mix of mostly new players — recruits, transfers and returning players who didn’t make it on the field last year.

The bad news for Georgia Southern is Hatcher doesn’t know what to expect.

The good news is Hatcher says Georgia coach Mark Richt also shouldn’t know what to expect from Georgia Southern.

"They don’t have any game film on our team, I can assure you of that," Hatcher said.

"It’s like we’re almost starting over. It will be interesting. I don’t know how they’ll react. I think they’re fired up. I don’t think they’ll be intimidated. They shouldn’t be intimidated."

Added Hatcher: "Georgia puts their pants on just like we do, one leg at a time, though their legs may be bigger than our legs."

Hatcher may not announce a starting quarterback before Saturday. Redshirt freshman Lee Chapple took the lead this summer, but Ohio State transfer Antonio Henton is still in a close race to start against Georgia.

"We feel like we’ve got two starters," Hatcher said. "That’s a good problem to have."

If no starter is decided in practice this week, Hatcher said there may be more than one coin toss before Saturday’s game.

"I don’t just place them on the depth chart," he said. "They have to earn it. If we have to get to the game and flip a coin to see which one takes the first snap, so be it.

"We may play them both on the first play so they can both say they’re starters."

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