The play that defined Georgia Southern’s 37-6 season-opening win over South Carolina State

Redshirt-sophomore quarterback Shai Werts ran to the left to score a 23-yard touchdown against South Carolina State. Werts had three rushing touchdowns on the night. 

McClain Baxley

After the opening drive nerves from the offense, the Eagles put together an impressive final drive of the first quarter. The drive extended the home team’s lead to 13-0 over South Carolina State.

To conclude the drive, redshirt-sophomore quarterback Shai Werts ran the option and in a very fluid motion fake pitched the ball to sophomore slotback Wesley Kennedy III to score from 23 yards out.

The play

The Eagles got the ball by way of a junior nose tackle Ty Phillips fumble recovery to give them the ball on the SCSU 28 yard line.

“I really was gonna be a team player and block for (Deshon Cooper), but I saw the opportunity to scoop it up,” Phillips said. “These legs weren’t fast enough to get to the endzone.”

The 6-foot-3, 290 pound lineman didn’t get to the endzone, so the offense went to work deep in the visitors’ territory. On first down, senior running back Wesley Fields rushed up the middle for a five yard gain.

After a lengthy huddle, Werts took control. Kennedy went in motion from the right side and stopped in the back field, creating a three-man backfield with Werts in the center in shotgun, Fields to his left and Kennedy in the deep center.

Werts snapped the ball and went to hand the ball off to Fields, who didn’t take it. Werts to the right and was forced to the outside of the play. The redshirt sophomore looked like he was gonna have a nice, one-handed shuttle throw to trailing Kennedy, but he tucked the ball back in.

“It kind of just happened, playing fast and playing off instinct,” Werts said.

Quickly changing his direction, Werts cut up field and stepped his own players before falling into the endzone for his first score of the night.

“I feel a lot more comfortable in this offense,” Werts said. “And those are the type of plays that I can make, when I’m just free and loose.”

{{tncms-inline account=”Captain” html=”<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">After Ty Phillips recovered the fumble, <a href="https://twitter.com/_shaiwertss?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@_shaiwertss</a> carries it in from 20+ out. Eagles up 13-0 with 0:36 in the first qtr. <a href="https://t.co/tJ5W9m84sC">pic.twitter.com/tJ5W9m84sC</a></p>— Captain (@McclainBaxley) <a href="https://twitter.com/McclainBaxley/status/1036020911240110081?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">September 1, 2018</a></blockquote>” id=”https://twitter.com/McclainBaxley/status/1036020911240110081″ type=”twitter”}}

The play’s importance

Werts’ first quarter touchdown run had an impact on the game because it showed Werts’ understanding of what offensive coordinator Bob DeBesse is trying to run on offense. Last season, Werts would have pitched the ball in fear of getting swarmed by defenders. Or, even worse, he would’ve just continued running horizontally, rather than cut up field.

“If they give me the pitch, I’m going to pitch it,” Werts said If they don’t, I’m going to run it. That’s what this offense is about.”

The 2 and 5 was critical to the team’s continuation of momentum built by Phillips’ fumble recovery. Too many times in 2017, the Eagles would force a turnover or a punt, but the offense wouldn’t hold up their end of the bargain.

Saturday night, the offense contributed to the team’s success just as much as the defense and special teams. They all supported each other and built upon the others positives on the field.

It also showed maturation from the offense who would hold or block up field last season and in the offseason. The offensive line had no penalties all night.

All three of Werts’ scores came off of some variation of a fake pitch, which the Bulldogs fell for. Every single time.

McClain Baxley, The George-Anne Sports Editor, gasports@georgiasouthern.edu