“If it ain’t broke don’t fix it” is a grossly overused cliche in today’s world of sports, which is why it pains me to bring it up.
Now that everyone has had time to sober up, grab some coffee and get a decent night’s sleep to recover from last night’s scare against UL-Monroe -- it’s time to drop some knowledge.
First, three games is still too early to panic about anything. Three games has never been and never will be a big enough sample size to draw any valid conclusions about a team’s performance. I harped on this a lot last week and will continue to until around week nine or 10.
Second, if we’re going to use three games as a valid sample -- then Georgia Southern has a minor explosiveness issue. Last season Georgia Southern averaged 6.3 yards per play, good enough to be 21st in the country. This year they’ve dipped to 6.0 through two games, and that average will certainly drop considering Southern averaged 4.7 last night.
Third, last night saw a glaring issue that needs to be nipped in the bud immediately. The offensive playcalling in the first half was suspect at best, especially on first down. Three times on first-and-ten Georgia Southern passed the ball and three times those passes fell incomplete -- stalling all three drives and resulting in zero points.
Let me be very clear -- an option team like Georgia Southern should never ever be passing on first down for any reason. An incompletion on first-and-ten more than likely means passing downs for the rest of that drive (2nd-and-long, third-and-long) and those are drive killers for run-heavy offenses.
I’m sure some of you Southern fans out there who have dual-lineage with Georgia Tech are saying “But Justin Thomas can pass on first down!” And yes, he does. But let’s not compare apples to oranges here, neither Favian Upshaw nor Kevin Ellison are Justin Thomas.
Now this isn’t a dig at Upshaw or Ellison, as they’re fine quarterbacks -- for an option offense. Thomas is the best passer Georgia Tech has seen since Paul Johnson’s been head coach, and neither Upshaw nor Ellison can compare in that regard.
When you watch them up close the flaws are very clear. They struggle to sit in the pocket and read a defense, especially zone coverage. Both will throw to their receivers before they’ve left the breaks in their routes and both have accuracy issues. This is all coming from the shotgun formation too, not under center.
That being said, the only time Southern should attempt to pass is on third and long or second and very long. Upshaw and Ellison simply aren’t good enough passers to make things happen through the air consistently -- at least from what I saw yesterday.
This is backed up even more by the fact that if Southern is stuck in second-and-long after an incomplete pass, the Eagles have struggled to produce the big runs this year that could make up ground to put them in a favorable third-and-three or four to continue running the ball.
When Southern was hitting the big runs consistently, like last season, then taking some shots on first and second down consistently wouldn’t be a problem. It would probably make the offense more dangerous, as was seen last season. This is not the case in 2016.
I know some fans will read that and immediately run to the box score and find all of Southern’s long runs of 22, 20, 14, 30, 10 and 21. Those are big runs, but they are merely six runs out of 71 total rushes by Southern on Saturday. When you take those big runs away, Southern goes from averaging 4.9 yards per carry to averaging 3.5 on 65 runs -- which by the way is not good.
That all came against one of the worst rushing defenses in all of college football. Granted, this was probably weighed up by playing Oklahoma last week -- but it can’t be ignored coming into this game UL-Monroe was 117th in the country in yards per play allowed and 118th in yards per rush allowed.
The big plays come sparingly for Southern, but not consistently. It’s something to keep an eye on as the season progresses and better defenses step up to the table. I’m saying all of this not even acknowledging that Southern’s defense gave up a lot of big passes and were bailed out by two turnovers and a blocked field goal.
The bottom line is Southern needs to stick to the Paul Johnson brand bread-and-butter until the big plays start coming more consistently. The Eagles can’t afford another first half like that again, because every team from here on out will be better than UL-Monroe and will not give up a 14-0 lead so easily.