STATESBORO, GA (WTOC) - The newest version of the Georgia Southern Eagles this fall will look more like the teams of old than they have in recent years. The Triple Option returns to Paulson Stadium. Paul Johnson adapted and perfected this variation of the Wishbone offense as an assistant and head coach at Southern.
The offensive philosophy relies on quarterbacks who run the ball as much as he passes it. The QB must instantly decide, on the run, whether or keep it or pitch it wildly at the last moment to an already-in-stride running back. Viewed as a novelty and inneffective by NFL coaches, the option guided Georgia Southern to 6 national titles in their first 10 years of NCAA competition.
But after Johnson left for Navy, and later Georgia Tech, the school lost faith in his successor and the option with anyone but Johnson at the helm. They opted for a more mainstream offensive plan after the 2005 season that offered some ball handlers more opportunity to impress pro coaches and scouts. It was supposed to bring wins, fans and excitement. GSU Athletic Director Sam Baker looks back now to see that the formula that has worked so many other places didn't work here.
"It's been a long four years, I've been called a lot of names. That goes with the territory," Baker said with a shrug.
But can an underdog that became a dynasty do it again?
Jeff Monken, a Johnson protégé returns to Statesboro with just that mission - win games, draw crowds, and get Georgia Southern back in a national spotlight. The coach says it won't happen overnight.
"There's a perception that this offense is a magic wand and with it automatically comes success. That's not the case," Monken cautioned.
He said it will take more than one year to get players who fit the option style - in skills and attitude. Wide receivers must block for running plays more than catch spectacular passes. It relies more on small but quick linemen that move around to open holes. Finding such selfless players could slow the return to greatness so many fans want and expect. Those expectations mean ticket sales. That success is critical not only to football but other Eagle teams that don't draw the crowds or revenue.
"We've got to provide people with a show, an entertaining brand of football that makes them drive to Statesboro or drive across town or from somewhere in the Coastal Empire to come to a football game," Baker advises.
Pat Spurgeon was an assistant coach in the Eagles' early years, he said the option gives coaches a better chance to utilize more local players.
"We need to remember where we came from. We're a South Georgia team and need to appeal to the people of South Georgia. We did at one time and I think we need to get back there so that people from Dublin, Macon, Saint Marys or wherever want to come. You're never gonna replace Georgia, but there are plenty of people in this area that want to see the Georgia Southern Eagles soar," Spurgeon advises.
But this time, they'll try to soar on the ground.