The Georgia Southern football team conducted its first scrimmage of spring practice Saturday morning at Paulson Stadium. While some of the miscues and missteps commonly associated with first scrimmages were present, the Eagles made it clear that they will be running in high gear throughout the season.
Already known and feared by opponents for their speed and explosiveness, the Eagles executed at a break-neck pace throughout the scrimmage of about 75 plays.
With GSU running exclusively out of the shotgun and getting plays off 10-15 seconds after the previous play had ended, there was some resemblance to the Oregon Ducks’ vaunted ‘blur’ offense. But there was still a clear Georgia Southern stamp on the style of play as motion, quick reads and pitches moved the ball downfield.
The offensive look was a bit different, and so were the guys that ran the show.
Jerick McKinnon and Ezayi Youyoute — as well as Dominique Swope and a handful of other returning starters — were held out of action due to injuries. Taking the snaps on Saturday were redshirt freshmen Vegas Harley and Kevin Ellison.
Both had their ups and downs, but while McKinnon is still slated to begin the regular season at quarterback, it was clear that he has plenty of athleticism and talent behind him on the depth chart.
“We wish that more guys who will be starting could have taken part in the action today,” GSU coach Jeff Monken said. “But it’s also good to get guys like Vegas and Kevin a lot of reps. They need to get that action and experience in a game setting.”
Both looked the part of effective option quarterbacks. Ellison ran five times for 43 yards while Harley toted the ball eight times for 45 — including a 10 yard touchdown scramble off of a broken pass play. The pair combined to go just 3-for-10 on downfield throws, but had some success on rollout screen passes.
“I thought that we executed pretty well overall,” Monken said. “Of course, there were things we didn’t do so well. We mishandled a few snaps and there were four contact fumbles. Those are things that just can’t happen.”
The Eagles will continue to try and shape things up as spring practice continues, but they don’t plan on slowing up in order to do so.
The offense always looks to its wealth of speed to take advantage of opponents during plays. Picking up the tempo in between the end of a play and the next snap is just another part of the game plan.
“It definitely puts a little more pressure on the defense to figure out what it wants to do,” GSU quarterbacks coach Mitch Ware said. “We still have a ways to go to execute it well though. I don’t know if our quarterbacks were even paying attention to down and distance today, but that will get better with time.”
“I was enjoying the chance to get out there and lead the offense,” Ellison said. “We were working fast, but I was just trying to stay calm, process everything, and then execute.”
A few turnovers killed otherwise promising drives as the first and second string offenses consistently gained yardage on the ground.
Fullback Irving Huggins had the busiest day of all Eagles, carrying nine times for 51 yards and a touchdown. William Banks picked up 21 yards and scored the second of three touchdowns tallied in the scrimmage.
Connor Tierney, Alex Hanks and Cole Allison combined to go 3-for-3 on extra point attempts, but Tierney fired wide left from 29 yards out on the Eagles’ only field goal attempt of the day.
Georgia Southern resumes spring practice Monday. Another scrimmage is scheduled for April 6 and spring practice will conclude with the annual Blue-White game on April 13.
Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9404.