2018 Georgia Southern Eagles Preview – Part 1

Part 2

Let There Be Option

There’s a reason Georgia Southern fans are devoted to the triple option. Not only has it been a historical source of success, but whenever the program has strayed away from it, bad things start to happen. It’s not just an offense to Eagles’ fans; it’s an identity.

The first time Georgia Southern abandoned the unique offense was 2006 when they fired Mike Sewak after a first-round playoff loss to Texas State and hired Brian VanGorder, current defensive coordinator of Louisville. The arrogant VanGorder, in all his infinite wisdom, decided to install a pro-style offense with triple option personnel. The result? A 3-8 season that ended with VanGorder resigning.

In came Chris Hatcher (now Samford’s head coach) and his “Hatch Attack” air-raid system. Three frustratingly mediocre seasons later, with zero playoff appearances and an 18-15 record, Hatcher was fired. Paul Johnson disciple Jeff Monken replaced him, the triple option was restored, and success promptly returned. Monken proceeded to take the Eagles to three straight FCS playoff semifinals and paved the way for Georgia Southern’s entry into FBS.

When Monken left for the Army job, he was replaced by Willie Fritz, who brought his version of the option to Statesboro. Fritz led the Eagles to the best FCS-to-FBS transition since Marshall in the late ’90s. Back-to-back nine wins seasons, a conference championship, and a GoDaddy Bowl victory later, Fritz himself left for greener pastures in the form of the Tulane Green Wave. In came Tyson Summers and well…

Georgia Southern’s first 24 games in FBS: 17-7

Georgia Southern’s last 24 games: 7-17

The past two seasons have been the worst 24 game stretch that Georgia Southern has experienced since restarting its football program in 1982. It’s rare to see a college football coach fired after only 18 games, especially at the G5 level, but it was clear that a change was necessary. Tyson Summers committed the cardinal sin of straying away from the option, and bad things started to happen.

Summers was canned following a 55-20 thrashing at the hands of UMass that punctuated a 0-6 start. His short tenure remains a testament to what can go wrong if you hire the wrong coach. Long-time assistant Chad Lunsford took over as the interim head coach. The players responded well to Lunsford’s “show up, show out” mantra and was able to salvage two wins out of the final six games.

His upbeat, positive energy was a breath of fresh air for Eagles’ fans. His performance was enough to get the interim label removed and an extension inked. Georgia Southern is making a bet that they’ve found the next Dabo. Eagles’ fans are just hoping for some stability and a return of their triple option identity.

Roundup of Predictions

Nobody really knows what to make of Georgia Southern this preseason. Predictions are all over the map. On one hand, the Eagles bring back virtually everybody and have upgraded their coaching staff. Six players were named preseason all-conference after having none named last year.

On the other hand, Lunsford only went 2-4 as head coach last season before being promoted. For what it’s worth, Vegas pins the over/under at 6.5 wins. If Georgia Southern finishes with more than 6.5 wins this season, Lunsford could be in the running for SBC Coach of the Year.

Forgotten5: 6-6, 4-4 in conference

Orlando Sentinel: #115 out of 129
Hero Sports: #95
Bill Connelly: 6-6
Athlon: 115, 4th in the SBC East
Sun Belt Media/Coaches: 4th in the SBC East
Vegas Over/Under: 6.5 wins
ESPN: 7-5
Phil Steele: 4th in the Sun Belt

Offense

Georgia Southern has gone through four offensive coordinators since 2016. The offense is where the problem starts:

Exhibit A:

PPG
2014: 39.1 (10th of 128)
2015: 36.5 (25th of 128)
2016: 26.6 (78th of 128)
2017: 20.8 (113th of 130)

That’s bad y’all. The offensive production has plummeted since Willie Fritz and Doug Ruse left. Rance Gillespie, David Dean, and Bryan Cook have done a number on this offense, and it’s Bob DeBesse’s job to fix it. DeBesse comes to Georgia Southern after six seasons at New Mexico. Before that, he spent two seasons at Sam Houston State under Willie Fritz. Lunsford wants to recapture the option magic the offense produced under Fritz, getting a guy who worked under Fritz is a good start. It should look familiar to Eagles’ fans. For a sneak peek, check these videos out:

Looks a lot like the Fritz/Ruse offense. There won’t be a lot of flexbone. Mostly shotgun and pistol formations. Lunsford wants more power and more zone out of the option attack than what he had with Bryan Cook.

The success of the offense hinges on QB Shai Werts and the five guys up front blocking for him. Werts received somewhat of a baptism by fire last season. The sophomore QB got better as the season progressed and showed signs of growth during the spring game.

Werts has a tremendous arm and elite elusiveness; I am eager to see what he can accomplish with a bulked up offensive line and a more veteran play-caller. A pair of seniors, LaBaron Anthony and Kado Brown, are his backups.

The offensive line is led by center Curtis Rainey and brings back plenty of experience. GATA Lifestyle has done an excellent job documenting the work this group has done this offseason under new strength & conditioning coach Matt Greenhalgh. The guard spots are story-line here. Jeremiah Culbreth will move from guard to left tackle after Tommy Boynton’s departure.

Senior Ryan Northrup had 27 career starts but got leap-frogged on the depth chart by Jakob Cooper; he could reestablish his stranglehold on the left guard spot in fall camp. At the right guard spot, Lawrence Edwards and a couple of JuCo transfers, Jawaski Webb and Aaron Dowdell, will compete for playing time.

Werts will have a talented trio of seniors with him in the backfield in Wesley Fields, Monteo Garrett, and Ellis Richardson. The Eagles need a big season out of this group if they want to make it to a bowl game. Fields is a traditional north-south type RB while Garrett is the speedy homerun hitter.

Redshirt freshmen Matt LaRoche and Grant Walker, along with junior Eric Montgomery will vie for carries behind those two. TE/HB Ellis Richardson turned it on after Lunsford was promoted and was named 2nd team all-conference this preseason. Wesley Kennedy III was the best receiver on the field during the spring game. Another player will have to emerge at WR after the loss of Malik Henry this summer.

Offensive starters returning: 7

Offensive starters lost: 4

Key losses:
RB LA Ramsby, OT Tommy Boynton, WR Malik Henry

Key returnees:
RB Wesley Fields, preseason 2nd team all conference, 117 carries, 811 yards, 5 TDs in ’17
TE Ellis Richardson, preseason 2nd team all-conference, 9 catches, 185 yards, 3 TDs in ’17
C Curtis Rainey, preseason 2nd team all-conference
QB Shai Werts, 85-172, 929 yards, 7 TDs, 5 INTs; 207 carries, 722 yards, 3 TDs
WR/Slot Wesley Kennedy III, 225 total yards

WR (Z)
Darion Anderson (6-0, 185, r-So.)
Dexter Carter Jr. (6-0 190, r-So.)

WR (X)
Obe Fortune (6-1, 190, r-Jr.)
Mark Michaud (6-4, 220, Jr.)

SLOT (H)
Wesley Kennedy III (5-10, 175, So.)
Malik Murray (6-0, 170, r-So.)

LT
Jeremiah Culbreth (6-4, 320, Sr.)
Jarrod Leeds (6-4, 270, r-Fr.)

LG
Jakob Cooper (6-3, 295, r-Jr.)
Jawaski Webb (6-2, 280, So.)
Ryan Northrup (6-2, 285, r-Sr.)

C
Curtis Rainey (6-2, 290, Sr.)
Drake Grall (5-10, 285, r-Sr.)

RG
Lawrence Edwards (6-6, 300, r-So.)
Aaron Dowdell (6-4 315, r-So.)
Caleb Kelly (6-2, 285, So.)

RT
Drew Wilson (6-4, 300, Jr.)
Brian Miller (6-3, 285, r-Fr.)

TE (Y)
Ellis Richardson (6-3, 240, r-Sr.)
Cam Brown (6-2, 235, r-Fr.)

QB
Shai Werts (5-11, 200, r-So.)
LaBaron Anthony (6-0, 195, r-Sr.)

RB
Wesley Fields (6-0, 205, Sr.)
Monteo Garrett (5-10, 190, r-Sr.)
Matt LaRoche (5-9, 175, r-Fr.)
Grant Walker (6-1 210, r-Fr.)

Part 2

3 thoughts on “2018 Georgia Southern Eagles Preview – Part 1

  1. Nick, how do you feel about this love of this shotgun option offense that Georgia Southern coaches have fallen in love with at the FBS level? For me, it seems that FBS defenses have adjusted to it really fast. Tulane can’t get it going and New Mexico really trended downward with running it and the same with Georgia Southern.

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    1. I think they made the move for recruiting. Arizona’s QB sabotaged their school from hiring Ken Nuimatalolo because he didn’t want to run the triple option. I agree with you to some extent, DeBesse had two winning seasons out of six at UNM. We’ve scored fewer and fewer point every year in FBS. Bryan Cook tried to do it last year and it failed. We need a big leap from Werts and the OL to make it work here.

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  2. Thanks for the reply Nick. My take on why the shotgun option has gotten adjusted to so quickly by FBS defenses is the athletes are better and they can see the plays from a mile away. Safeties come up a lot faster and disrupt the plays much more often without much yardage gained. The under center option, everything is so bunched up that the linebackers, and defensive backs and safeties can’t see what is going on as quickly and must stay in assignment defense longer, which allows the under center option to thrive more. There is a reason why the under center option has been around for so long and why the shotgun option has not. If it ain’t broke, then don’t fix it.

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