Changes are coming to Georgia Southern football, but there’s one thing that will, without a doubt, be the same — head coach Willie Fritz won’t be changing the Eagles’ offensive philosophy.
On its surface, the triple option requires the quarterback to make one of three decisions during a running play — give, pitch or keep. That’s not going anywhere.
“It all starts with the run,” Fritz says.
No, the changes to GSU’s traditional, under-center option offense aren’t philosophical, they’re fundamental.
Especially if you’re an offensive lineman who’s used to cutting and scooping.
Simply put, the o-line will be spending more time upright and less time low to the ground. They’ll spend more time engaged with the other team’s d-linemen. They’ll block with their hands instead of their shoulders. Although, “A lot of people don’t like getting their legs cut, so that’s an advantage,” Fritz says. “We’re going to use some aspects of that as well.”
But, in Fritz’s philosophy, the advantages of zone blocking are greater. In GSU’s traditional, under-center offense, the o-line tipped the play. When the line exploded over the line of scrimmage, it was almost always a sure sign of a run. If it went upright off the snap, it was almost always a pass.
“It makes it more difficult to run play action passes and pass schemes,” Fritz says, “and it makes it a little more difficult to develop pass protectors.”
That’s likely one of the primary reasons Jeff Monken’s Eagles experimented with the shotgun formation and the zone-read option from 2011 until 2013.
Although Fritz’s teams throw a lot more passes than most traditional GSU teams, the philosophy of the passing game is exactly the same.
“If you run the ball effectively, it just opens up the pass to where it looks like nobody’s covering them on purpose,” Fritz says, “and that’s what the goal is — run the ball effectively to where you can throw it off of the run game.”
Fritz just likes to throw it more than Eagle Nation is used to. And GSU will need a quarterback who can deliver the ball accurately. Fritz points to his teams’ high passing efficiency. In 2013, SHSU quarterback Brian Bell completed 171 passes (12 per game), and 32 of them went for touchdowns.
“We’ve prided ourselves on being one of the leading teams in the country in pass efficiency,” he said.
The other major change to GSU’s offense is to the B-back position. As in, there isn’t one anymore.
The Eagles will spend most of their time in the shotgun, with anywhere from one to three running backs in the backfield. The running backs will still have the same jobs — run between the tackles, take pitches and block — but they’ll be lined up in different places and doing a bit more pass-protecting. And they’ll be catching more passes, too.
In the run game, the quarterback lines up away from the line of scrimmage giving up ground, but the tradeoff is that he has more time to make his reads, and more time to see the play develop in Fritz’s philosophy.
But he’s still making his option reads.
“You’ve still got to mesh, you’ve still got to pitch the ball,” Fritz says.
That’s why when people ask me if GSU still runs the option, I borrow from “Ghostbusters.”
“When someone asks you if the Eagles still run the option, you say YES.”