Statesboro head coach Steve Pennington said today’s game with Tattnall County will hit closer to home than usual, thanks to Tattnall head coach Jeff Kaiser.
“I dont’t know of any coach that gets more out of what he has than Jeff Kaiser,” said head coach Steve Pennington. “In the years we have played in, even with our best teams, he has created many anxious moments for us.”
The problem for Kaiser is he’s 0-4 against his alma mater since he started coaching at Tattnall in 2006. With an average margin of defeat of 18.5 points, one can imagine Kaiser will look put an end to that streak with Statesboro sitting on an 0-5 record.
Statesboro’s struggles have come from many places, but some of it has been out of the team’s control. Without Davis Wiggins, the team’s passing game has simply been non-existent. Wiggins was completing 62 percent of his passes at 5.3 yards an attempt. While Wiggins wasn’t driving Statesboro down the field with his passes, he certainly wasn’t losing them any games.
At the very least with Wiggins in the game it took some pressure off the running game. With Wiggins at quarterback, Statesboro averaged 4.1 yards per play compared to 3.9 when he’s not — which in terms of statistics isn’t a significant difference. Thank running back Tupac Lanier and some ingenuity from the Statesboro coaching staff for keeping the offense from falling off a cliff.
“We’re still trying to put in some things that not only benefit us long term, but benefit us this week for Tattnall,” Pennington said. “So we really need to execute on what we’re already good at and focus on what we’re still trying to implement.”
Since moving to quarterback, Lanier has been a much more effective runner. His yards per carry have gone up from 3.1 to 4.1 since being under center — and as quarterback he’s averaging 5.5 yards a carry in two and a half games. And while he’s only completed two of his nine passes, he’s become more comfortable running the position.
“I’ve definitely more comfortable now” Lanier said. “Now that I’ve been running it for a while I feel good.”
Appling and Effingham were able to hold the “Wildpac” offense to 3.6 yards a carry, but a field-flipping fiend like kicker/punter Caleb Dowden has been able to consistently put Statesboro in favorable field position to make things easier for the struggling offense. Not to mention a shorter field for the Tattnall defense, which is fresh off giving up a season high 23 points to the Bradwell Institute — a team that hasn’t previously won since Dowden was in eighth grade.
Even still, Tattnall did hold 5-0 Dublin to 14 points despite a loss. Tattnall would follow by blowing out Beach and Claxton — both winless in 2016. The defense may have its inconsistencies, but Tattnall’s defense still has strengths in the middle. Defensive tackle Reakwon Johnson and middle linebacker CJ Brown have been stiff in the interior all season and that won’t change today.
“The core of that defense starts in the middle,” Pennington said. “When that part of their defense is strong, it makes everything around them better.”
All that being said, the X-factor in today’s game will be Tattnall quarterback Craige Saxton — yet another dual threat quarterback the likes of which have given Statesboro fits on defense. Last week Appling County’s Keelan Crosby accounted for 273 of his teams 337 total yards and two of their three touchdowns. Crosby averaged 5.9 yards every time he touched the ball and Statesboro can’t afford another quarterback to do the same thing so many others were able to this season.
“I swear we see a quarterback every week that can run and pass,” Pennington said. “We have to keep him at bay. They run the zone package just like last week and split run and pass 50 to 50. They’re very balanced.”
Another wrinkle to throw in this equation is Tattnall is coming off a bye week to regroup after their disappointing loss to Bradwell Institute. Not only will they have fresh legs, but they’ve been able to prepare for the “Wildpac” for two weeks now. Both will work against Statesboro, who not only will be playing for their first win of 2016 but will be playing in front the 2001 state championship team who’ll be in the house for their 15 year reunion
“Because they’ve had an open week, they may have some things prepared that we may be ready for,” Pennington said. “So we’ll need to be on our P’s and Q’s in the box as coaches to be able to make adjustments.”
From an intangible standpoint, this game will tell a lot about the mental makeup of Statesboro. Not only do the Blue Devil’s have to get over last week’s heartbreaker but also will be playing in what is expected to be the largest crowd Womack Field’s seen this year.
Tattnall is at par with Effingham for the worst team Statesboro’s seen this season, but the pressure and gravity of the game will play a key role on how Statesboro will play.