Aside from the fact that the Eagles let everybody know that they just might have a clutch kicker named Jesse Hartley for those no-time-on-the-clock, 54-yard, game-winning field goal situations, they sent a very clear message to every team left on their schedule: Pick your poison.
Quarterback Jayson Foster has slashed through every defense he has seen so far, racking up 884 yards rushing and 14 touchdowns in just five games. With a backfield that goes pretty deep without losing a step - guys like Mike Hamilton, Lamar Lewis and Chris Teal, not to mention fullbacks Dusty Reddick and Sean Gray (who combined for three carries for 60 yards against the Jackrabbits) - it is no secret that GSU can rack up some rushing yards.
Over the past few weeks, however, Georgia Southern has made one thing clear. Tighten up on the pass coverage and they’ll run it all over you, and try to take away the run and they’ll complete 23 out of 31 passes for 225 yards and a TD. And no, that’s not Tom Brady back there in the pocket, it’s still Foster.
Not bad for a converted option QB/wide receiver that also happens to be the punt returner.
Over the past three games, Foster has gone 50-for-61 through the air. For those keeping score, that’s about an 82% completion rate.
Foster’s supporting cast has been helpful, too. Wide receiver Irving Campbell had a career day Saturday, hauling in seven passes for 122 yards and a TD. He was one of six players Foster connected with. If that doesn’t leave any defensive coordinator’s head spinning, the Eagles also rushed for 226 yards and scored twice on the ground.
Georgia Southern is not traditionally known for having a balanced attack. A standard line for GSU used to look something like this: 354 yards rushing, six touchdowns and 4-for-7 passing for 76 yards and a touchdown. Leading the nation in rushing every year is great, but then again, so is racking up 226 rushing yards and 225 through the air.
When first-year head coach Chris Hatcher showed up in Statesboro, he promised the Eagle faithful that he would take the talent he inherited and do his best to use it to GSU’s advantage. Turns out he had more weapons on offense then everybody thought.
When the season started, there wasn’t as much of a wide-open passing game. It appeared that the role of the passing game was to spread out the defense so Foster and Co. could run all over it, but as the season has progressed, things have gotten a little bit more balanced.
"We haven’t been as tentative in calling (passing) plays as much as we probably were early in the year," said Hatcher. "Each week we find out more about our team. We’re learning about one another and I think that’s the reason you see us put a little more balance in than we were earlier in the year."
Foster’s multi-dimensional abilities can make play-calling tough on the Eagle coaching staff. Calling those pass plays, says Hatcher, can be tough when Foster’s running ability is so useful.
"It’s just a matter of calling it," said the Eagle coach. "Heck, it’s hard not to put it in number four’s hands all the time and let him run with the ball. But he threw the curl good, and we put the old Georgia Southern Ham-bone formation in to kind of alleviate some of our running back problems. We threw the ball really well out of that, and (Foster) is comfortable in that formation. That’s something we’ll have to look at for down the road."
Foster lining up in a "Hatch Attack" version of the Ham-bone? As if the SoCon defensive coordinators didn’t have already have their hands full with everything else.
Matt Yogus can be reached at (912) 489-9404.