Regardless of how the previous season went, one question will always be on the minds of Georgia Southern fans as a new season nears:
How does the option look?
That’s a question that new Eagle offensive coordinator Bob DeBesse has likely heard hundreds of times during interviews, fan events and in general conversations around town.
For many years, that question was mostly a formality as the Eagles were a perennial threat to lead the nation in rushing. But two consecutive losing seasons were made even worse by an option attack that went from the best ground game in the NCAA in both 2014 and 2015 to one of the least explosive and least efficient units in the country last fall.
Enter DeBesse, who was the original architect of the pistol option that former GS coach Willie Fritz brought to Statesboro. DeBesse headed to New Mexico a year before Fritz came to the Eagles, but the offense proved to be lethal, spurring Georgia Southern to the 2014 Sun Belt championship and a 2015 bowl victory.
Now, DeBesse is tasked with waking up what fans hope is a sleeping giant.
As with any good coaching philosophy, DeBesse says that improvement starts with the little things.
“I like what I see in the pre-snap,” DeBesse said. “You have to eliminate pre-snap penalties and mistakes at the line of scrimmage. After that, our success has to start with the offensive line. And you have to have a trigger man (quarterback Shai Werts) getting the job done.
“Throughout the summer and in fall camp, I’ve been excited from how we’ve seen everyone grow. I really like the effort on the field and in the weight room.”
Werts was in lockstep with the rest of the GS offense in 2017. Given the reins of the Eagles’ attack as a redshirt freshman, Werts showed occasional flashes of the athleticism that made him a prized recruit in the 2016 offseason, but inconsistency begat ineffectiveness in many games.
But a long offseason has left plenty of time to improve and — to a man — the coaching staff lauds Werts’ work ethic and commitment to fully grasping the offense.
In the big picture, understanding the offense is likely a bigger facet of an option attack than of other schemes. From a zone blocking technique for the offensive line, to running backs understanding the blocking and anticipating where holes will open, to quarterbacks reading the defensive alignment and making split-second decisions after the snap, the option relies heavily on all 11 players executing.
The elite athleticism of some of the Eagles’ skill position players will make for some highlight-reel plays, but only if the other 10 guys do their jobs and the ball carrier knows how to react as he watches the play unfold in front of him.
“It’s about the what, how and why,” DeBesse said. “The ‘what’ is each guy knowing and executing his assignment. The ‘how’ is the technique we use to execute each assignment. The ‘why’ is understanding why we’re doing these things in the scheme of our offense. Once you’ve got those down, you can really cut loose.”