There are only a handful of guys in Georgia Southern’s offense who have any real, in-game experience playing college football, fewer that have played their current position before and, by the way, only one quarterback has any in-game experience at all.
Paul Johnson saw quick turnarounds with this triple-option offense at Georgia Southern and Georgia Tech, but also went 2-10 in his first year at Navy.
So, Jeff Monken’s transition at GSU could go a number of different ways.
Here are a few tips for the offense based on what I’ve seen in practice since spring camp, and also based on what this offense has done in the past at GSU:
— Expect to go for it on fourth down. A lot. Many coaches are under the mistaken impression that you only get three chances to get a first down. Guys who coach this offense like to use all four. Usually there’s not really an element of surprise, either — 4th-and-1, QB keeper, 4th-and-2, fullback dive, 4th-and-3, motion both slotbacks into the wishbone to try to draw the defense offsides, then if that doesn’t work, call a timeout. Or just stay in the wishbone and run a play anyway.
— If you’re a fullback, don’t ever underestimate the power of a three-yard dive up the middle. If you can do that consistently, you just opened the door for a lot of other stuff.
— Oh, and stay low. That goes for everyone on the offense.
— Robert Brown is one of the freshmen on this team that will have a chance to make some plays. In fact, all the fullbacks on the roster look like they can move the football.
— For the quarterbacks, none of you have been around very long. Jaybo Shaw’s proven that he can deliver the ball through the air, make the right reads and make a pitch when the situation calls for it. As for the rest of the QBs — GSU’s crowd is pretty dang knowledgeable about the option, so when you hear 18,000-plus people yell “Pitch!” at the exact same time during the play, go ahead and pitch it.
— For the wide receivers, you’ll get your chances. If you make ’em count, you’ll get more. Of course, to be honest, the Eagles did once put up 655 yards and 59 points in a national championship game, and they only completed one pass.
— On the plus side, don’t feel too bad about all your new blocking responsibilities and techniques. Corners hate it.
— Also, I know the receivers from last year are used to talking a couple of steps, turning around, catching the ball while standing still and then getting hit immediately. The passing game in this offense likes to use seams, one-on-one matchups and moving targets. Weird.
— I’ve seen enough to know that there are some playmakers in the slotback position. Get the ball in Jawaun Luckey’s hands in space and good things will happen. It’s a shame he’s only got one year at GSU. There are some freshmen (Darries Robinson, for one) that can make some things happen too, and as for the wideouts who decided to stick around and got moved to the position, thanks to them there’s now plenty of depth and versatility in the slots. They all bring something to the table.
— If you’re on the o-line, don’t get flagged for a false start. Ever. Seriously. Because 1st-and-15 kills a drive in this offense faster than a Kim Bauer storyline kills an episode of “24.”
— Learning to block for the triple option isn’t easy, but being able to learn in camp against GSU’s defensive line certainly helps. Learning to block against a guy like Brent Russell is like learning to be a head coach from a guy like Paul Johnson.
— There are still going to be screen passes every now and again, but don’t panic. Heck, even a China route is okay in moderation.
— Did I mention false starts yet? Seriously, don’t do that.
— One final tip, and this one’s for the media that covers the Eagles. I know it’s been a long time since we were able to use the words “vaunted” and “offense” in the same sentence. Cross your fingers and give it time.
Matt Yogus can be reached at (912) 489-9408.