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My Take: A look at life without Jaybo

I spent most of the drive up to Charleston over the weekend thinking about how The Citadel just installed almost the exact-same offense as Georgia Southern and has a couple of true freshmen quarterbacks at the helm, and about how interesting it would be to get a hint of what the first-year offense would look like if Jaybo Shaw never transferred to GSU.

I got more than a hint.

Rather than comparing the seasoned Georgia Tech transfer to the Bulldogs’ pair of true freshmen, the crowd at Johnson Hagood Stadium saw first hand what a Shaw-less GSU offense looks like.

Shaw went down on the second offensive play of the game with a hip injury, and true freshman backup Jerick McKinnon took over from there.

It wasn’t pretty.

What the 10,385 fans at Saturday’s game saw was less a college football game and more a pickup game in the back yard after Thanksgiving dinner.

That’s not to take away from what McKinnon was able to do, either. In Shaw’s absence, the true freshman set a GSU record for carries in a game with 35 and rushed for 182 yards and a score.

The Citadel’s nine turnovers pretty much wiped out any hope of scoring by the home team, and McKinnon’s obvious athletic ability let the Eagles take the win that the Bulldogs were desperately trying to give them.

The kid can flat-out play, make no mistake about that, but the biggest lesson taken from that 20-0 scrum was that — as the old coaching saying goes — there’s no substitute for experience.

Back to the original point, it’s hard to believe that the Eagles would be 4-3 with three one-possession losses to good teams and still have an outside shot at the playoffs without Shaw running the show.

He’s been taking a pounding all year long, and it finally took its toll Saturday, but everybody was sure after the game that Shaw will be ready to play when GSU hosts Samford on Saturday. And now that the first-year coaching staff has a better idea of what McKinnon brings to the table as a backup, some of the pressure can be taken off Shaw’s shoulders from here on out.

So, for the first time seemingly in years, things actually seemed to go in Georgia Southern’s favor. If you’re going to break in a true freshman, especially at quarterback, it helps when the other team can’t hold onto the football.

I’m not sure it’s even possible to simulate it to that extreme in practice.

The way things have gone for the Eagles this season, I don’t think there’s any way to know if Shaw will be back on Saturday until the first GSU offensive drive takes place.

But, what we do know is that Shaw is as tough as they come. He finishes runs, he doesn’t duck out of bounds when the going gets tough, he fights for every yard the opposing defense allows, he usually makes the perfect read when he’s running an option play and, perhaps most importantly, he knows how to read the defense and deliver the ball through the air.

As for McKinnon, he got a little bit of confidence, some live, in-game experience and a full game with the ones under his belt, and the Eagles didn’t have to sacrifice a win to get it for him.

After a two-game losing streak, Georgia Southern needed to take a step forward in the worst way, and despite a sloppy, mistake-laden, two hour and 18 minute turnoverfest against The Citadel, it found a way to do just that.

The Eagles want to put that game behind them as much as everyone in attendance, but thanks to a true freshman quarterback who is still ankle deep in the learning process, they can actually do it with something left over to build on.

 

Matt Yogus can be reached at (912) 489-9408.

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