Is It A “New Era” Or “End of an Era” For The Georgia Southern Eagles?
Georgia Southern entered the Sun Belt in 2014 and immediately owned the conference with a perfect 8-0 record. Today, the Eagles are coming off a 5-7 season and are seeking to reclaim their identity. But is it too late?
In 2014, the Georgia Southern Eagles waltzed into the Sun Belt conference and nonchalantly humbled the conference. It was almost too easy! Head coach Willie Fritz was selected the league’s Coach of the Year and RB Matt Brieda rumbled for 1,485 yards and 18 total TDs. QB Kevin Ellison rushed for more than a 1,000 yards and tacked on 12 rushing TDs. Nobody knew what to make of the Eagles, who ran a funky triple-option that nobody in the Sun Belt could defend.
Flash forward! Willie Fritz left Statesboro for Tulane after a 6-2 season in 2015, heralding the arrival of Tyson Summers, previously the defensive coordinator at Colorado State. With no offensive pedigree, including zero experience with the famed Triple Option, Summers assured Eagles fans that the signature offensive scheme would remain unfettered.
Summers first season at the helm was a disaster, with Georgia Southern going 4-4 in the Sun Belt that included an unthinkable loss to its hated foe, Georgia State. The once potent QB combo of Ellison and Favian Upshaw was injured much of the year, and the Eagles’ alien-human hybrid running back, Matt Breida, was limited to a mortal 646 rushing yards and 5 total TDs.
The offense that co-offensive coordinators Rance Gillespie and David Dean didn’t seem like the dangerous and unpredictable Triple Option that made Statesboro special. The offense went from averaging 363 rushing yards per game to 224, scoring only 24 TDs on the ground. What the hell?
All hail the return of the Triple Option!
After the season ended with a satisfying victory over Troy, Summers and AD Tom Kleinlein dismissed Gillespie and Dean (which resulted in some ugly offseason drama). Entering Statesboro: Bryan Cook, formerly the Georgia Tech quarterbacks and B-backs coach. As you may (or may not) know, the Yellow Jackets and head coach Paul Johnson (formerly of Georgia Southern) run the triple option. Offensive purity has returned to the Eagles.
But is the addition of Cook enough to restore Georgia Southern to greatness?
Summers might be rebuilding in 2017
Ooooooooo, nobody wants to hear that in Statesboro. Buuuuuuuuuuuut, the Eagles didn’t land a single player on the Sun Belt Preseason All Conference First or Second Teams. Furthermore, much of the team’s long time leadership and identity have graduated and moved on: Ironhead Gallon (LB), Upshaw, Breida, Younhoe Koo (K), Ellison, Andy Kwon (OL) and Darius Jones (S) are all gone.
Further complicating matters is the inexperience at quarterback. Seth Shuman left the team in spring to focus on baseball, leaving dual-threat redshirt freshman Shai Werts and redshirt Junior LaBaron Anthony to battle it out under center this Fall. (With the Triple Option, we’ll likely see plenty of both.) Upshaw and Ellison worked together like a Skynet machine. Do Werts and Anthony have the potential to provide the same production?
Finally, the 2017 schedule isn’t kind to the Eagles. Three of four OOC games are away from Statesboro. On the conference side, the Eagles host SBC co-champion Arkansas State, but must troll the visiting sideline at co-champion Appalachian State and Troy. At least the revenge matchup with Georgia State is at home.
Georgia Southern landed an incredible recruiting class for 2016 and another solid class in 2017 so the foundation for future success is certainly there. The RB combo of Wesley Fields (492 yds, 6 total TDs) and L.A. Ramsby (343 yds, 8 TDs) has promise, and the experienced offensive line should improve that puzzling 2016 rushing stat. And maybe Summers really did learn his lesson, and Bryan Cook is the Triple-O Solution™ the Eagles need.
We’ll see. The Eagles open at Auburn, but then receive a far more appetizing test against Indiana in Week 3. The Hoosiers have the look of a mediocre Big 10 East team. If Georgia Southern’s restored Triple Option is a success in Bloomington, the Eagles may be carving out a New Era.
If not? Ain’t nobody in Statesboro gonna be happy.