Wednesday, July 26, 2017

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2017 Georgia Southern Eagles Football Preview Part III: The Outlook

This season is a huge question mark for Georgia Southern, plain and simple. On its surface, if you are not attuned with the minutiae of Eagle football, it does not look great from a distance. Many Eagle fans see last year as a colossal failure, a missed slam dunk. Tyson Summers inherited a roster, full of seniors, that had come off of back-to-back 9 win seasons in the program's first two years at the FBS level. The group had won the school's first Sun Belt Conference championship, their first bowl game, and had beaten Florida in the Swamp. Rather than choosing continuity, Summers made some mistakes as a first year Head Coach and reversed nearly everything that had worked under Willie Fritz. While Fritz brought a modern approach to practice, emphasizing not tackling to the ground, recovery days, even concussion detection equipment in the helmets. Summers took a more old school approach, full contact, aimed to build "toughness." Summers put the Strength & Conditioning program under the watch of Dr. Tredell Dorsey, a man with a flimsy PhD from a diploma mill and an assault charge on his CV. Dorsey didn't last the season and the S&C program languished, a program that is vital to the success of the triple option offense. Summers paid lip-service on his intent on running a "gun-triple option" attack but hired two Chris Hatcher/Air Raid disciples to run the system, David Dean and Rance Gillespie. The result? Somewhat of two square pegs being forced into one round hole. The Eagles dropped from 1st in rushing in 2014 and 2015, to 29th in 2016 and 78th in scoring. Now both Dean and Gillespie are suing the school for "violation of contract." Most Eagle fans would contend that the school counter-sue them for damages incurred when they ruined what should of been a promising season.

If you are looking for something to be optimistic about you have to throw last season out as an aberration. If you take this season in a vacuum, as something independent entirely, there are plenty of positives. Preseason magazines have Georgia Southern finishing anywhere from 3rd to 8th and I don't blame them. This is a hard season to predict. Never have I seen a young coach like Tyson Summers make such dramatic changes in one offseason. The changes are positive in my opinion. Bryan Cook, Bob Bodine, and Juston Wood bring a wealth of triple option experience that the players seem to be optimistic about. New Strength & Conditioning Coach Dwayne Chandler has NFL and P5 experience, and has drawn rave reviews from Coach Summers. The schedule is easier than last year. The Eagles lost some pieces but return Fields and Ramsby, an experienced OL, and a deep and talented secondary. Summers has taken advantage of the NCAA's new rule change, eliminating two-a-days but allowing practice to start six weeks ahead of the season. This gives the team more time to learn the new schemes and more time to recover. Since the season is so hard to predict, I'm going to go through the best and worst case scenarios for the Eagles in 2017. First the worst:

Worst Case Scenario
We'll start with the bad stuff first so we can cleanse our palates with some rosy-eyed optimism. Worst case is that the QB situation never gets settled. No one emerges as an alpha of the group or worse there are injuries to an already thin unit that force a Garrett or Richardson to move back to QB. The young front seven struggles getting pressure on QBs and stopping the run. This puts more strain on the secondary to make plays. The offense never gels in time and we go into the Plains Week 1 and get absolutely demolished by Auburn. We limp on and struggle vs. New Hampshire, Indiana, and Arkansas St and the coaching staff spends the entire season on the hot seat. Summers doesn't make it past the Appalachian State game, Bryan Cook is named the interim HC. After watching Georgia Southern get waxed by its biggest rival on national TV for a third year in a row, Southern boosters decide they have seen enough. At this point, nobody's job is safe, not even AD Tom Kleinlein's, who already has several critics among the fanbase.

Best Case Scenario
Shai Werts emerges as the next great Eagle QB and has a surprisingly good season as a redshirt-Freshman. Wes Fields and LA Ramsby stay healthy and have huge seasons behind what should be a lean, mean, and experienced OL. Myles Campbell emerges as an all-purpose threat that keeps opposing defenses from crowding the box. The Eagles are back in the top 3 in the nation in running and the fanbase is relatively calm. With Summers and Costantini spending more attention on the defense, Logan Hunt and Chris DeLaRosa have monster years and a few unknowns emerge as big contributors. This allows the secondary to ball hawk and force more turnovers than last year. Forcing turnovers (extra possessions) is really the key objective for most defenses with triple option offenses. The Eagles go into Jordan-Hare and cover the spread against Auburn and give them a game for at least a half. Feeling optimistic, the Eagles then dust off UNH and use bye weeks to prepare for Indiana and Arkansas State respectively. They beat Indiana and Arkansas State and ride the momentum the rest of the way with away games at Troy and App State being the only likely losses the rest of the way. We give Georgia State the beating they deserve and finish with anywhere from 7-10 wins. 2016 is all but forgotten.

2017 Georgia Southern Eagles Football Schedule
Saturday Sep. 2 at Auburn Tigers
Jordan-Hare Stadium, Auburn, AL 7:30pm ET

Sep. 9 New Hampshire Wildcats
Paulson Stadium, Statesboro, GA 6:00pm ET

Sep. 23 Hoosiers at Indiana Hoosiers
Memorial Stadium, Bloomington, IN Time TBA

Oct. 4 Arkansas State Red Wolves
Paulson Stadium, Statesboro, GA 8:00pm ET

Oct. 14 New Mexico State Aggies (HC)
Paulson Stadium, Statesboro, GA 6:00pm ET

Oct. 21 at UMass Minutemen
McGuirk Stadium, Amherst, MA Time TBA

Oct. 28 at Troy Trojans
Veterans Memorial Stadium, Troy, AL Time TBA

Nov. 4 Georgia State Panthers
Paulson Stadium, Statesboro, GA 3:00pm ET

Nov. 9 at Appalachian State Mountaineers
Kidd Brewer Stadium, Boone, NC 7:30pm ET

Nov. 18 South Alabama Jaguars
Paulson Stadium, Statesboro, GA 3:00pm ET

Nov. 25 at UL Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns
Cajun Field, Lafayette, LA Time TBA

Dec. 2 at Coastal Carolina Chanticleers
Brooks Stadium, Conway, SC Time TBA

2017 Georgia Southern Eagles Football Preview Part II: Defense and Special Teams

Tyson Summers was hired by Tom Kleinlein presumably because of his potential for loyalty and his defensive pedigree at UCF and Colorado State. With all the struggles that the offense had last year stealing the spotlight, it was easy to forget about the defense. Gone are LBs Ukeme Eligwe (Chiefs) and Ironhead Gallon (Cardinals) to the NFL. Also gone are: LB William Bussey, CB Darius Jones, DE Bernard Dawson, and DTs Jay Ellison and Jonathan Battle. Special Teams lost Lou Groza finalist Young-Hoe Koo. But even with guys mentioned above, the defense was only mediocre:

52nd in Scoring Defense - 26.5 ppg
58th in Rushing Defense - 167.1 ypg
69th in Passing Defense - 229.5 ypg
58th in Total Defense - 396.6 ypg
54th in Turnover Margin - +1
124th in Sacks - 11

Ironhead Gallon and Ukeme Eligwe were elite defensive players on an otherwise bad defense. They made up for a lot of mistakes. They will be missed. Is there reason for hope? Well, yes and it goes like this:

1. Chris DeLaRosa/Logan Hunt/Darrius Sapp - the three returning starters on the front seven must have big seasons and guide the younger guys. DeLaRosa, starting MLB, might be our best returning starter on defense.
2. Secondary - Most of the secondary returns and is very talented. Joshua Moon and Jay Bowdry are hard hitters back there while Jessie Liptrot and Monquavion Brinson are coming off of productive freshmen campaigns.
3. Tyson Summers - Most of Willie Fritz's recruits are gone. The defense is almost entirely made up of guys Tyson Summers recruited. His past two classes were highly ranked and defense-heavy. With Bryan Cook fixing the offense that should in theory allow Summers to spend more time with his bro Coach Zo and the defense.

Let's look at the depth chart:


DE: Logan Hunt-JR, Deshon Cooper-JR, Traver Vliem-FR*, JB Kouassi- SO, Demetrice Lofton-FR, Brain Miller-FR
DT: Darrius Sapp-SR, Zack Copeland-JR, Ian Bush-JR, Ty Philips-SO, Chris Washington-SR, Shelby Townsend-JR

Logan Hunt and Darrius Sapp are the veteran anchors to the front four. Defensive coordinator Lorenzo Constantini added DL Coach to his list of responsibilities, something he has experience doing at UCF. He hopes to get more out of a unit that produced only 11 sacks all season in 2016. Traver Vliem and Deshon Cooper had productive springs while Zack Copeland, Ian Bush, and Chris Washington will vie for the starting job in camp opposite of Darrius Sapp.

SLB: Todd Bradley-SO
MLB: Chris DeLaRosa-SR
WLB: Rashad Byrd-FR
Bench: Tomarcio Reese-JR, Randy Wade-FR, Ike Ukwu-SR, Jacory Belvin-JR, Alvin Ward-FR

Chris DeLaRosa is the anchor in the middle. He missed four games last season due to a high ankle sprain but looked healthy enough to represent the team at Sun Belt Media Days earlier this week. He's accompanied on his right and left by talented but inexperienced Todd Bradley and Rashad Byrd. Because of the nature of college football and the spread offense, outside linebackers have to be fast enough to cover the entire field. Rarely will three linebackers be deployed. The Weakside linebacker doubles as sort of nickelback. Bradley showed up to camp with a whole new body that everyone can't stop talking about. Rashad Byrd had a great spring and looks to be the frontrunner for that WLB/NB spot.

CB: Jessie Liptrot-SO, Kindle Vildor-SO
SS: Jay Bowdry-SO, Martial Washington-FR*
FS: Joshua Moon-JR, Amari Thompson-FR*
CB: Monquavion Brinson-SO, Christian Matthew-SO
NB: RJ Murray-JR, Sean Freeman-JR

The strength of the defense was a weakness going into last season. But trial by fire has created quite a few gems. Bowdry and Moon are the bash brothers back there and will bring the pain over the middle. The group of Liptrot, Brinson, Vildor, and Matthew are as good as a young group of CBs in the conference. Christian Matthew in particular stands at 6-3 175 and can be deployed at CB, Nickel, or even Safety. Juco transfer Sean Freeman really came on last year when asked to. He and RJ Murray could vie with Matthew for the Nickelback spot.

Special Teams
K: Tyler Bass-SO, Luis Martinez-FR*
P: Matt Flynn-SR
KR: Malik Henry-JR, Myles Campbell-SR
PR: Myles Campbell-SR, Quan Howard-SO
LS: Colton Piatt-FR*, Logan Cox-FR, Ryan Langan-FR

Tyler Bass has big shoes to fill with Groza finalist Young-Hoe Koo moving onto the NFL (Chargers). Luis Martinez could factor in if Bass struggles, Bass only previously had kickoff duty. Flynn returns as the punter. A combination of Malik Henry, Myles Campbell, and Quan Howard will most likely split returning duties.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Tweet from Chad Lunsford

2017 Georgia Southern Eagles Football Preview Part I: The Offense

Today is the first day of Fall practice on the banks of Beautiful Eagle Creek. 2017 unquestionably will be a season on the brink for the Georgia Southern Eagles. Only twice since the rebirth of Eagle football in 1982 have they finished with a worse record than in 2016: 1996 and 2006. Notice a pattern? Years ending in the number "6" have been unlucky for Georgia Southern football since at least 1986, when the Eagles won their 2nd championship. A peculiar numerological phenomenon coming from a program dubbed "Six Flags over Georgia" in reference to their record six national titles at the FCS/I-AA level.

2017 looks to be a bounceback year for Georgia Southern. Following the surprise departure of head coach Willie Fritz to Tulane at the end of the 2015 season, a series of unfortunate events lead to a 5-7 season last year. Despite inheriting a battle-tested, senior-laden squad, head coach Tyson Summers was unable to finish with a winning record in his first season at the helm. To put it simply, he was lucky to make it out alive. According to reports, Summers had to make major changes to the coaching staff to survive. Gone are the dysfunctional offensive coordinator duo of Rance Gillespie and David Dean (both are currently suing the school for violation of contract) and in comes Bryan Cook from Georgia Tech. Bob Bodine comes in from Army to be the new OL coach and Juston Wood comes from Cal-Poly to be the WR coach. All three coaches have previous offensive coordinator experience and come from the Paul Johnson/Triple Option coaching tree that has been so good to the Eagles in the past. For whatever reason, that most of Eagle nation is still trying to figure out, Summers hired two Chris Hatcher/Spread disciples in Dean and Gillespie to take over an offense that had lead the FBS in rushing in 2015 and 2016. In short, the triple option is back in full force. If you know anything about Georgia Southern football, the triple option is held in high regard to say the least. The mistake has been rectified but will it be enough?

Gone are Kevin Ellison, Favian Upshaw, Matt Breida, BJ Johnson, and Montay Crockett from the offense. Key contributors over the past four years. But the cupboard isn't entirely bare. Let's go through the depth chart.

* - Redshirt

Shai Werts - FR*, LaBaron Anthony - JR, Kado Brown - TR/JUCO/JR, Jaalon Frazier - FR

Summers names Shai Werts and LaBaron Anthony the frontrunners at the start of Fall Camp. Which makes sense because they got the most action in Spring Practice. Werts is the consensus favorite to be starter going into the opener vs. Auburn. Werts had a good spring and showed flashes of explosiveness. Summers has said that Werts has put in the work over the summer as well, first one in, last one out type of deal. Success this season hinges on him staying healthy and at least being above-average as a redshirt freshman. The reason is, there isn't a lot of reliable depth behind him. His primary backup, Junior LaBaron Anthony has had a grand total of 30 snaps in an Eagle uniform. The other two options are JUCO transfer Kado Brown and promising but raw Freshman Jaalon Frazier. Seth Shuman quit the football team before Fall Practice to focus primarily on baseball. The top three QBs from last year: Kevin Ellison, Favian Upshaw, and Shuman are all gone. Any injuries to this position at all could force the Eagles to move RB Monteo Garrett, TE Ellis Richardson, RB LA Ramsby, or even WR Hampton McConnell back to QB (all former QBs). Eagle fans hope it does not come to that point.

Wesley Fields - JR, LA Ramsby - SR, DeMarcus Godfrey - SR,  Monteo Garrett - JR,  Eric Montgomery - SO, Grant Walker - FR, Matt LaRouche - FR

If Eagle fans are looking for a ray of hope going into next season, they can take solace in a solid running back corps. Gone is Breida the Cheetah to play for the Niners, but vets Wes Fields and LA Ramsby are back. Fields is your ideal 6-0 200 all purpose back ready to take over Breida's job as primary ball carrier. Despite being the third option the past two seasons, Fields sometimes stole the show with his playmaking ability. LA Ramsby is your prototypical physical, between-the-tackles runner who racks up TDs like gnat bites in Statesboro. Between these two it gives Werts (or whoever the QB is going to be) somewhat of a security blanket. Behind Fields and Ramsby, you have decent depth. DeMarcus Godfrey, Monteo Garrett, and Eric Montgomery will vie for snaps while promising freshmen Grant Walker and Matt LaRouche wait in the wings.

WR/XY: Mike Summers - TR/SR, Malik Henry - JR, Darion Anderson - *FR, Mark Michaud - SO, Hampton McConnell - SO, Obe Fortune - SO, D'Ondre Glenn - SO

SB/Z: Myles Campbell - SR, George Johnson - JR, Dexter Carter - FR, Wesley Kennedy - FR, Malik Murray - FR

TE: Ross Alexander - SR, Ellis Richardson - TR/SR, Cam Brown - FR, DJ Butler - FR, Josh Lee - FR

Myles Campbell is the playmaker of this group. Despite his short stature (5-6 160) he might be the most versatile player on offense. You will see Campbell line up in several different spots. You might see him fulfill a Percy Harvin type role where you see him line up in the backfield, slot, wide, maybe even returning kicks to keep opposing defenses guessing. Aside from Myles, Georgia Tech transfer Mike Summers is looking to bounce back after an injury plagued 2016 season. Malik Henry should anchor the other receiver spot. Mark Michaud slendered down and moved over from TE and McConnell is a former QB, both intriguing prospects that will at the very least provide perimeter blocking for the run game. The young guys to really keep an eye on are Darion Anderson and Dexter Carter. Both were borderline 4-star recruits coming out of high school and have enormous potential. I could see either fill a Campbell type role where they play all over the field.

T: Tommy Boynton, Lawrence Edwards
G: Ryan Northrup, Jakob Cooper
C: Jeremiah Culbreth, Christian Williams
G: Curtis Rainey, Jake Edwards
T: Drew Wilson, Tristan Hill

Another bright spot on offense is the wealth of experience that is back on the OL. Summers raved about the group at the Sun Belt Media Days. He said they "had the best summer of any position group." Under new OL Coach Bob Bodine and Strength & Conditioning Coach Dwayne Chandler this group looks to play good ole' fashioned Georgia Southern smash-mouth football. They want this group to go back to what they do best, which is block downhill for the triple option attack. Northrup, Culbreth, Rainey, and Wilson are returning starters and Tommy Boynton is a returning starter from two seasons ago (injured last year). Even the 2nd string group is relatively deep with UGA transfer Jake Edwards, 3-star Lawrence Edwards anchoring that group.

Monday, July 24, 2017

The History of Georgia Southern's Beautiful Eagle Creek

A little introduction, or re-introduction if you remember me from my Passing Us By blogging days with friend Robert Greene II. I'm back writing about everything Georgia Southern. Here is a little background on the site's name from a 1988 interview of Erk Russell by Dan Patrick.