An up-and-coming young quarterback and a new breed of competition on the horizon should s spell changes in the playbook for Georgia Southern University.
For years, GSU football could not be mentioned without the words “triple-option” following closely behind. Ever since former GSU head coach Paul Johnson took over the team in 1997, the triple option has brought much success to the program as GSU has two national titles and seven Southern Conference titles while running it.
Johnson now continues the triple option at the Georgia Institute of Technology and Jeff Monken, who was Johnson’s running backs coach while at the Naval Academy, GSU and Georgia Tech, now runs the triple option at GSU from the head coach position.
With GSU heading to the Football Bowl Subdivision next season, consideration of dropping the triple option for the spread must be a point of discussion for competition at the next level. The triple-option offense in the FBS has shown flashes of greatness, but for the most part, has been inconsistent against major competition.
Before his current stint at Georgia Tech, Johnson implemented the triple option at the Navy from 2002-2007. Navy posted a dismal record of 2-10 in Johnson’s first season with the program, but won at least eight games every season from 2003-2007 while winning 10 games in 2004. In that period, Navy posted a below .500 record against schools from the Atlantic Coast Conference, Big-10 Conference, Pac-12 Conference and Southeastern Conference.
To date, Johnson’s best season at Georgia Tech was in 2009. The Yellow Jackets went 11-3 that season, won the ACC but lost in the FedEx Orange Bowl. The 2009 season was sandwiched between a 9-4 record in 2008, 6-7 in 2010, 8-5 in 2011 and a 7-7 mark last season.
This may be a blasphemous statement in Statesboro, but I believe the triple option has run its course as a championship-caliber offensive system in the Football Bowl Subdivision, where GSU will end up in 2014. In the era of the spread offense and more reliance on a solid passing attack, the run-only, clock-management offense is a thing of the past. Against top-tier FBS offenses which can score a lot and quick, GSU will lose games because it cannot catch up with six minute drives to reach the end zone.
With redshirt freshman quarterback Kevin Ellison looking at the starting job next season, a whole slew of possibilities for the GSU offense can open up. I will say that senior quarterback Jerick McKinnon is the best pure football player on the roster. No disrespect to McKinnon, but I believe Ellison is the best quarterback on the roster. With McKinnon seeing more snaps at slot back due to the injuries to the running backs, Ellison will see more time under center to prove that theory.
With GSU running more plays from the shotgun formation in games and practice with Ellison, the possibility is there that a spread offensive attack could emerge. With Monken being a protégé of Paul Johnson and the triple option, it is understandable that it would be a hard change to make, especially considering the success GSU has seen with it in the SoCon.
I know GSU is going to the Sun Belt Conference, not the SEC, ACC or the Big-12. I brought up those upper-echelon programs because, with GSU’s recruiting abilities and staff, I see the Sun Belt as a potential stepping-stone to one of the aforementioned major conferences. Not to look too far ahead, but if the change is going to be made at all, it would be better done sooner rather than later.