WVU will see Eagles run at it with option offense
Who knows much about the Georgia Southern Eagles from Statesboro?
West Virginia’s defense can tell you the Eagles actually led the nation in rushing offense last season with 380 ground yards per game.
In compiling a 9-3 record, Georgia Southern lost only to North Carolina State, Georgia Tech (by four points) and Navy. First-year coach Willie Fritz swept through the Sun Belt Conference in unbeaten style. Of course, the Sun Belt Conference wasn’t the SEC West and had only Idaho, Louisiana-Monroe, New Mexico State, Appalachian State, Texas State, Troy, South Alabama and Georgia State as minor road blocks to Georgia Southern’s championship ride through the league.
Fritz and company use an option offense and return last year’s top three ground gainers in Matt Breida (1,485 yards and 18 touchdowns), Kevin Ellison (1,096 yards and 12 touchdowns) and L.A. Ramsby (691 yards and 12 touchdowns as a freshman last year).
But the starting quarterback on that team will be ineligible to play against the Mountaineers.
The Eagles threw the ball only 155 times in 12 games last season.
Two of West Virginia’s most vulnerable segments of its recent teams have been defending kickoff and punt returns. At least the Eagles could never return a kick or a punt back for a touchdown in 2014.
After seeing the Mountaineers at 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 5 in Morgantown, the Eagles will go through several months of conference games before getting themselves in a furious mood to play Georgia in Athens.
A first-time starter at quarterback being entrusted with the decision-making called for in a option offense might not be the best way to see the Mountaineers in Morgantown.
This Coach Dana Holgorsen’s fifth season . . . and he seems to have evolved and been agreeable to changes to his offense as his personnel has changed in his term.
Like the Eagles, Holgorsen will open his season with a quarterback who has yet to prove himself. Skyler Howard did play in the final two games of the 2014 season, but his passing didn’t scare anybody . . . so he might run almost as often as he throws against Georgia Southern.
Will Holgorsen send his own stable of runners, led by Rushel Shell and Wendell Smallwood, at the Eagles’ front seven? The group of receivers is as green as a John Deere tractor and trusting them so early in the season might be too much of a gamble.
The West Virginia defense knows what it will see. Running plays and more running plays. But who will have the football in the camouflaged plays?
Nose guard Kyle Rose and middle linebacker Jared Barber will have the responsibilities to limit yardage on brute-force running plays. Barber missed all of last year with a leg injury, while Rose started every game in the 2014 season.
West Virginia’s secondary has been touted as the most talented portion of this team.
Hopefully, it won’t be called on to stop too many plays that have escaped the front six. The Mountaineers surrendered over 200 rushing yards in six games last year.
Karl Joseph, K.J. Dillon and Dravon Askew-Henry are the most acclaimed safeties on the team and Nick Kwiatkoski is also a returning starter.
Georgia Southern is going to run and run some more. Only West Virginia doesn’t know where the Eagles will find comfort in doing so and doesn’t know which of the three set backs will receive an option pitchout and be sent straight at Rose and Barber in the middle.
Georgia Southern beat Florida in 2013. It won nine games last season. And it lost in Atlanta to Georgia Tech, 42-38.
But it has a problem at quarterback . . . and that is not a position where an option team can afford to have its most ineffective player.