On the surface, Georgia Southern's prolific offense appears to be a bit one dimensional.
But while 75 percent of GSU's total offensive production — 542.7 and 52.0 points per game — has come on the ground, the team’s high-powered option attack is anything but one dimensional. What the 15th-ranked Eagles lack in the throwing department, they more than make up for on the ground.
“It’s really three dimensional,” UTC head coach Russ Huesman said during Tuesday’s media luncheon. “It’s the triple-option.”
Through the Eagles’ first three games of 2013, their opponents have had a tough time defending all three.
Junior fullback Dominique Swope was the man in GSU’s season-opening win over Savannah State, racking up 100 yards and a pair of touchdown runs in the 77-9 win over the Lions. The following week against St. Francis (PA) — a 59-17 victory — it was senior William Banks’ turn to shine, as the 5-foot-9, 194-pound back ran for 72 yards and three scores.
Wofford somehow managed to slow them down in its Week 3 win over GSU, but the Eagles still managed 426 yards in the 30-20 setback. Jerick McKinnon, usually the team’s starting quarterback, spent much of the afternoon at running back, racking up 114 yards on 19 carries. Freshman quarterback Kevin Ellison finished with 165 total yards while Swope added 67 yards on the ground.
“They’ve got so many good players that it’s impossible to practice and say ‘all right, we need to know where McKinnon is every snap,’” Huesman said. “You can’t do that. You just have to defend their offense, and if he’s the guy getting the pitch on the perimeter, you’ve got to tackle him. If he’s at quarterback, you have to tackle him
“Obviously he hurt us last year as a quarterback.”
The complex offensive scheme, coupled with an abundance of skilled ball carriers, makes Georgia Southern one of the most difficult teams to contain in the entire country.
“I haven’t watched one snap from our offense in the last four practices,” Huesman said. “I’ve been on the defensive field the whole time.”
When you throw in the Eagles’ collective team speed, they’re downright scary.
“Part of it is the triple-option, and it’s assignment football, but I think the hardest part about defending Georgia Southern is they’ve got so much team speed.” Huesman said. “If [they didn’t] have great team speed, maybe you get a guy chasing it down for an 8-yard gain. Georgia Southern turns those 8-yard gains into 60-yard gains.”
Sure GSU doesn’t have much of a passing game, but when you’re picking up huge chunks of yards on the ground like Jeff Monken’s squad has consistently done, why throw it?
The Eagles have completed 22 of their 39 pass attempts for just 404 yards this season, yet they’re still averaging a SoCon-leading 7.5 yards per play, including seven scoring plays of 20 yards or more — six of those scores, including the team’s longest play from scrimmage, have come on the ground.
“It’s a little option play and the next thing you know it’s a 65-yard touchdown,” Huesman added.
So, how do you stop the Eagles’ three-headed monster consisting of misdirection, depth and considerable talent?
Well, for starters, you limit the big play. At least that’s how the 17th-ranked Terriers managed their win over GSU. Ellison ripped off a 53-yard run in the losing effort and McKinnon managed a 25-yarder. Wofford’s defense never broke, though, forcing the Eagles to earn every point they managed to put up.
“Hopefully we can come in, tackle well and have good angles,” senior cornerback Chaz Moore said. “That’s how you beat a team like Southern: Good tackling, good angles and everybody’s got to run to the ball ... If you get cut you’ve got to get up and run. No matter where it is, all 11 players have to meet at the ball.
“There’s no individuals when you’re facing an option team.”
Michael Murphy covers UTC athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelNooga.
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