Georgia Southern went 5-7 in Tyson Summers’ debut as head coach, which was labeled a disappointment considering all the experience he inherited. Now all those players are gone, as the Eagles return just seven starters. A new offensive coordinator has practically a clean slate to work with, which may or may not be a good thing. The defense is really no better off, although there are a few veterans to build around. Last season was a rough one for Summers, both on and off of the field, but the hope is that the lessons learned will start paying off, although any progress made may not be reflected in the win column.
Previewing Georgia Southern Football’s Offense for 2017
Outside of the service academies, no program in college football identifies with the option attack as closely as Georgia Southern. And after a rocky season under Tyson Summers, who gave lip service to the option but actually installed a hybrid spread offense that regressed significantly in the Sun Belt, the Eagles are going back to a flexbone inspired by current Georgia Tech and former Georgia Southern coach Paul Johnson. Bryan Cook, who worked under Johnson the past four seasons as quarterbacks and B-backs coach, will have to re-shape the offense without quarterbacks Kevin Ellison and Favian Upshaw and running back Matt Breida, who accounted for 62 percent of the team’s 2,690 rushing yards last season.
Now, there are plenty of question marks surrounding the quarterback position, where speed and decision-making will be crucial. Sophomore Seth Shuman, whose redshirt was pulled out of injury-related necessity last season, accumulated 114 snaps under his belt in 2016. However, Shuman left the team in July to play baseball, leaving Shai Werts, a redshirt freshman as the likely starter. Werts is ultimately fit better as a dual-threat talent.
With five players returning who have starting experience, the offensive line should be a strength, but there’s no obvious replacement for all-league center Andy Kwon. If that unit jells, the Eagles could get back on track quickly.
Previewing Georgia Southern Football’s Defense for 2017
A year ago, Georgia Southern was young in the secondary but loaded with upperclassmen in the front seven. And while the Eagles were solid against the run, they weren’t able to provide much assistance with the pass rush, sacking opposing quarterbacks just 11 times all season.
Now the script has flipped. The Eagles return the core of their back end but will have to replace seven of their top nine linemen and nearly all of their linebacking unit. It will help to get linebacker Chris DeLaRosa back after he missed more than half the season with a high ankle sprain, but Georgia Southern will need unproven players such as sophomore Lane Ecton, who moved from safety to strong-side linebacker in the spring, to step up. Georgia Southern has focused a lot of attention on defense in its recruiting and will need junior college transfers, including Tomarcio Reese, to play immediately and stabilize the front seven.
Georgia Southern’s experience in the defensive backfield should pay off. Former walk-on safety R.J. Murray, who took a huge step forward last season, could get in the all-conference conversation alongside Joshua Moon.
Previewing Georgia Southern Football’s Specialists for 2017
The Eagles graduated a standout in Lou Groza Award finalist Younghoe Koo, who made 19-of-20 field goals last season. Sophomore Tyler Bass is his likely replacement. Georgia Southern needs to get more production from punter Matt Flynn, who averaged just 39 yards last season but did pin 11 of his 56 kicks inside the 20-yard line. The Eagles’ turnover at several skill positions will impact them in the return game.
It’s never a good sign when an athletic director has to release a statement in support of his coach after Year 1, but that’s exactly what Tom Kleinlein did after Summers’ disappointing 5–7 debut. Give Summers credit for making some adjustments, including an overhaul of his offensive staff and an admission that running the option is the best way to win in Statesboro. Still, last season should have been a honeymoon with 22 seniors who had been part of a winning program. Instead, Georgia Southern struggled mightily both on the field and in public relations. Now Georgia Southern will have to replace 15 starters, including its best skill players and much of its defense. It could be a bumpy ride again. But if the younger players Summers recruited start to contribute, his philosophy may start to take hold and portend better results in 2018.
National Ranking: 111
Sun Belt Prediction: 7
(Photo courtesy of Georgia Southern Athletics)