When Tyson Summers was introduced as Georgia Southern’s head football coach in the waning days of 2015, he promised that the Eagles would remain a gun-option team while putting an emphasis on achieving more in the passing game.
So far, so good.
Not only did the Eagles turn in their so-good-it-seems-routine 400-plus yards rushing, but they also gained 185 yards through the air. Georgia Southern’s normal lateral pitches accounted for the usual damage, but forward pitches - in the form of a pair of tight spirals off the right arm of Favian Upshaw - also accounted for a pair of touchdowns.
For reference, the Eagles didn’t throw one touchdown pass until mid-October of last season.
Among other notable happenings in Saturday’s season opener:
PUNCHES IN BUNCHES
Matt Breida pulled one of his famous disappearing acts when he blazed past Tiger defenders for a 26-yard touchdown midway through the third quarter.
Aside from that, Georgia Southern’s rushing attack wore down Savannah State with multiple runners that continually ate up small chunks of yardage.
“I think you saw three running backs tonight that can be effective,” GS coach Tyson Summers said. “Actually, you saw four, with Troy Stewart getting in there at the end and showing some good runs.”
Eagle running backs and quarterbacks combined for 420 yards on the ground, with five of them topping 50 yards on the night.
NOT ‘SPECIAL’ ENOUGH
Georgia Southern punted just once, got 100 punt return yards on five attempts and continually pinned Savannah State deep in its own territory with every kickoff.
And still, Summers believes that more can be done.
“There were too many penalties,” Summers said. “I felt like we had a great night in the return game. But you get a couple of bonehead plays and penalties that take those away. Those are the things we have to eliminate if we want to keep moving forward.”
Tyler Bass handled all of the kickoff and placekicking duties Saturday night. The redshirt freshman sent six of his nine kickoffs for touchbacks and hit on six of his seven extra point attempts.
Georgia Southern tried to stress more passing last season to no avail. While the Eagles dialed up deep ball after deep ball against defenses cheating up to stop the option run game, passes continually sailed off target or were dropped by otherwise wide open receivers.
Saturday saw another attempt to stress passing, but also took a more efficient route.
Instead of looking for big plays down the field, it was short crossing routes and quick throws to the sidelines that gashed Savannah State. Favian Upshaw and Kevin Ellison combined to go 12-of-15, with one unfortunate interception, but also with a pair of touchdown tosses and 185 yards of damage done to the Tigers.
“It feels good,” Upshaw said. “All summer we worked on getting better in the passing game. We’re out there in the heat working on our passing and timing. It’s nice to be able to see that pay off in a game.”
FACING THE MUSIC
Saturday wasn’t so much fun for a handful of Eagles.
Just an hour before kickoff, word came down from the team that seven players would be suspended for the game.
“They broke team rules, so they didn’t play,” Summers said. “It’s as simple as that.”
Ken Butler Jr., Bernard Dawson, Ryan George, Jessie Liptrot, Christian Matthew, L.A. Ramsby and Chaz Thornton will all return for next week’s game at South Alabama.
Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9408.