Georgia Southern is coming to Clemson and at 2-0 has already matched their win total from last year. With the exception of a run n shoot experiment in 2016, which is a thing I never expected to type, Georgia Southern has been a stalwart option team. More than almost any school the option is part of their identity. More specifically, the under center triple-option has been a core part of their identity, and even shifting to the shotgun to run the triple option is met with some skepticism.
Head coach Chad Lunsford and OC Bob DeBesse will run a bit of triple-option, but in the words of DeBesse “It’s two completely different offenses, and, in particular it’s completely different for the offensive line.” DeBesse, formerly of New Mexico, was part of five consecutive top ten rushing teams with the Lobos.
The Eagles typically align with at least two running backs in the backfield, running a mixture of shotgun and pistol formations. They also make heavy use of TE/FB hybrids in the backfield, resembling Auburn (or Clemson) on occasion. Like almost every team these days they base around inside and outside zone, using tags to adjust to the defense.
Here for example Georgia Southern runs a called dive to the RB with a fullback kicking out, using the “option” purely for misdirection. If DeBesse can keep handing the ball to seniors Wesley Fields and Monteo Garrett he will.
Later in the drive the Eagles will start to run this as a true triple option, using the fullback to pick off whoever in the secondary is assigned the quarterback.
Here the offense runs inside zone, but with a midline read, meaning that the defensive end is blocked and the defensive tackle is read. This could be part of the plan for Clemson’s defensive line, particularly Lawrence.
Sophomore quarterback Shai Werts is dangerous on the ground and tends to make the right reads (for example, turning down an offer at USCe). The threat Werts posses on the ground can get his running backs open against teams that aren’t option sound. These option concepts are supplemented with the occasional power run, particularly on third or fourth and short.
The passing game has shown improvement in an incredibly small sample size, with Georgia Southern yet to throw more than ten passes a game. Still, it works for what they need it to do, and Werts is completing nearly 70% of his passes for over 11 YPA. Werts has good touch, a big arm and can usually rely on the threat of the running game serves to get his receivers open.
So long as the offense stays out of third and long they tend to convert and keep drives going. The Eagles know this, and do everything in their power to stay out of passing downs. In situations they have to pass? Well, they struggle, and Werts running the draw might be their best play. The quick passing game relies almost exclusively on fades+outs, a route combination designed to punish teams for packing the box.
His receivers have a tendency to drop balls while looking to turn up field, Wesley Kennedy III might be the only reliable one on the team. Fortunately for Georgia Southern, he’s pretty good.
The drop back passing game is bare bones as well, but showed potential. Not every option teams can run the two minute drill for a touchdown like the Eagles did last week (it was UMass, but still).
If their offensive line can block well enough for them to get 3.34 yards per carry the Eagles can string together some drives. That is, admittedly, a massive “if.” Georgia Southern, despite being on their fourth coordinator in as many years, surprisingly has only had one turnover this year. Combine that with Clemson’s willingness to sit on a lead and I don’t think Clemson will cover, but the Tigers should win comfortably. Have fun Saturday and stay safe.