You can say the same thing almost every time the Georgia Southern Eagles take the field for an out-of-conference game — the opponent hasn’t seen anything quite like GSU’s triple-option attack.
It's no different for Delaware (11-2), which the Eagles (10-4) will face Saturday at noon in Newark, Del. for a trip to the Football Championship Subdivision national championship game.
The different mentalities — GSU’s run-first and shut-down-the-run-and-blitz approach versus Delaware’s spread passing attack and balanced, lights-out defense — provides intriguing matchups all over the field.
Georgia Southern: Before the 2010 season kicked off on Sept 4, the only player on the team with any experience running the option offense in college was Georgia Tech quarterback transfer Jaybo Shaw. While he hasn’t exactly lit up the stat sheet — Shaw has passed for 1,180 yards and rushed for 504 this season — he brings experience and decision making to the field that freshman backup Jerick McKinnon has yet to develop. He guides the option like a point guard, and if assists were a stat in football, Shaw would lead the country. Once inside the red zone, Shaw has shown the ability to punch it in on the ground. He has 16 rushing touchdown this season, including two against Elon, which held him overall to negative-10 rushing yards.
Delaware: The Blue Hens have had a lot of past success with future NFL stars transferring in — Rich Gannon and Joe Flacco just to name a few — and quarterback Pat Devlin has followed a similar path. Devlin came to Delaware by way of Penn State, and has had a field day in his 12 starts this season. Devlin completes passes at a 68.2-percent clip, and has thrown 20 touchdowns and only two interceptions on 330 attempts. He has thrown for 2,675 yards, and has shown the ability to escape pressure. He has a stable of receivers, completing double-digit passes to seven different players.
Summary: Shaw is less a quarterback and more a point guard on a team that wants to run, run and run, and then run it again. Devlin controls the offense in a more traditional way, doesn’t turn the ball over, gets good protection and has a number of targets.
Georgia Southern: At first glance, the only GSU running back with impressive numbers is true freshman fullback Robert Brown, who has rushed for 955 yards in 12 games for six touchdowns and a 4.8 per-carry average. Brown’s centerpiece status has been nullified at times by his tendency to put the ball on the ground. Brown has fumbled in each game in which he has played with the exception of the quarterfinal matchup with William and Mary, in which he ran for a career-high 178 yards.
Upon further inspection, the Eagles run and run often, with 20 different players carrying the football this season. Backup fullbacks Tobi Akinnranye and Lee Banks have combined for 488 yards, and J.J. Wilcox and Darreion Robinson lead the slotbacks combining for 847 yards on the ground. Shaw has shown the ability as the third option to take what he is given by an opposing defense. As a team, the Eagles average 4.6 yards per carry, and their 261.5 rushing yards per game average dwarfs Delaware’s 183.8.
Delaware: When the Blue Hens run the football, it usually goes to freshman Andrew Pierce. Pierce has averaged 102.1 yards per game on his way to 1,327 yards on the season, with 13 touchdowns. He is complimented by David Hayes, who adds 47 yards per game. The lack of a mobile quarterback makes the UD running attack one-dimensional, but it has served as a strong compliment to the 223.4 yards per game through the air.
Summary: Delaware may have the back with the most impressive stats, but the Eagles run the football from everywhere and do it often.
Georgia Southern: It would be more apt to call Georgia Southern’s receivers “wide blockers.” They spend more time holding off corners for the running game than they do catching passes, but when they do, they’ve capitalized. Mitch Williford, Tyler Sumner and Tray Butler each have around 150 receiving yards, but the main target in the passing game has been slotback J.J. Wilcox. Wilcox has caught 20 passes for 522 yards and averages 26.1 yards per reception.
Delaware: There is no go-to receiver on Delaware’s roster. Nihja White leads the team with 53 catches for 649 yards and six touchdowns, but Phillip Thaxton (43-471), Tommy Crosby (36-434), Mark Schenauer (32-469) and Rob Jones (27-385) aren’t far behind. Pierce is a receiving threat out of the backfield, catching 25 passes for 175 yards on the season.
Summary: Delaware’s tendency to spread the ball around to many different receivers means you can’t forget about anybody, and it’s easy to forget that GSU even has receivers on the team. While valuable to the running game, the GSU receivers are only called upon in key situations. The Hens look at receivers as their bread and butter.
Georgia Southern: Brett Moore, a 6-foot-3, 253-pound junior leads Georgia Souther’s offensive line. In 2009’s passing offense, Moore didn’t see the field. He was the backup long snapper. This season, Moore was named as an Associated Press third-team All-American. That should serve as an indication that GSU does things a bit differently on the o-line. They go anywhere from 245-275 pounds on the starting line, and are built for cut blocks and down-field run support. The have led the way for GSU to become the No. 3 rushing offense in the nation, while allowing 21 sacks.
Delaware: Pass blocking is the name of the game for Delaware. The o-line goes as big as Nick Cattolico at 6-foot-4, 335-pounds, and has allowed 24 sacks in 13 games. The hens average 4.4 yards-per-rush.
Summary: Georgia Southern’s offensive line would fall apart in Delaware’s offense, but the five Eagles in the trenches are good at what they do. Same goes for Delaware.
Georgia Southern: The accomplishments of GSU defensive tackle Roderick Tinsley have been overshadowed only by first-team AP All American Brent Russell. Alone, the pair has combined for 34 tackles for loss. Along with starting ends John Douglas and freshman Josh Gebhardt, who replaced injured Dion DuBose, the four have accounted for 43 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks. Opposing teams average 3.5 yards per carry. Georgia Southern owns 36 turnovers, and 11 belong to the front seven. The Eagles allow 123.3 rushing yards per game. When in the red zone, GSU’s opponents score a touchdown 45 percent of the time (19-42).
Delaware: Up front, Delaware’s scheme is similar to that of GSU. The Hens feature four down linemen and two linebackers, and routinely show eight in the box. Delaware holds opponents to a nation’s-best 99.8 yards per game and 3.4 yards per carry. Also at the top of the nation in scoring defense, Delaware allows only 11.6 points per game. The Hens have 52 total tackles for loss, compared to GSU’s 96, and have forced 26 turnovers — 16 interceptions. When in the red zone, Delaware’s opponents score a touchdown 44 percent of the time (15-34).
Summary: While Delaware’s front six haven’t allowed much on the ground, Georgia Southern has been a big-play threat on defense. The Eagles have nearly twice as many tackles in the backfield and a third as many turnovers. The front four minimize the need to blitz by applying constant pressure, and the speed at linebacker is effective both in pressure and coverage. Delaware knuckles up and doesn’t break or bend.
Georgia Southern: Led by third-team AP All-American cornerback Laron Scott (six interceptions), the Eagles’ secondary allows 161.6 passing yards per game. Opponents have thrown 13 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. Opposing quarterbacks average 6.7 yards-per-attempt, and complete 52.9 percent of their passing attempts.
Delaware: Delaware’s defense has been most susceptible to the pass this season, but not by much. Opponents have thrown 11 touchdowns and 19 interceptions, and average only 5.3 yards-per-attempt. In the pass-heavy Colonial Athletic Association, the Hens allowed 175.2 yards-per-game through the air.
Summary: Georgia Southern’s corners and safeties have been lights-out against the run, but have also been tested early and often through the air. While Delaware has some experience with the option over the years in games against Navy, it hasn’t seen it this season. GSU has been defending the spread all year.
Georgia Southern: Adrian Mora has missed two field goals (18 for 20) — both in games Georgia Southern won — and is a perfect 44 for 44 on extra points. Laron Scott is an All-Conference performer as a kick returner (27 yards per return), and Charlie Edwards (41.2 yards per punt) leads the nation in punting. Punt returner Darreion Robinson averages 6.1 yards per punt return, and hasn’t muffed one all year.
Delaware: Kicker Mike Perry has missed six field goals (16 for 22) and five extra points (42 for 47). Ed Wagner averages 40.1 yards per punt, and Phillip Thaxton averages 23.2 yards per kickoff return.
Summary: Punting statistics are overrated, and the fact of the matter is, Edwards punts it deep when he has to and puts it inside the 10-yard line when he has to.
On paper, Georgia Southern’s offense plays right into Delaware’s strengths on defense.
On the field however, those 3.4 yards the Blue Hens allow per carry translate into first downs for an option offense like the one run by the Eagles.
Devlin has put up big numbers through the air, but he can’t throw passes if he’s on the sidelines. Georgia Southern will look to limit the amount of possessions the Blue Hens will have by moving the chains and running the clock. What that means is that punt teams and turnovers spell disaster for UD.
Fortunately for the Hens, they have limited their mistakes all season long and haven’t turned the ball over. They don’t give up big plays, and they’ve been methodical on offense as well.
Assuming both teams execute like semifinal teams should be able to execute, and combining all of the above factors, you’re looking at another hard-nosed football game for Georgia Southern, with both teams scoring below their season averages.
A fumble by the Eagles or a bomb down the sidelines by Delaware could spell the end for GSU, but a clean, well-executed game will come down to special teams, where Georgia Southern has a very clear edge.
Prediction: Georgia Southern 18, Delaware 15
Matt Yogus can be reached at (912) 489-9408.