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Davis oversees GSU's option offense
Forget about carving turkey. Georgia Southern offensive coordinator Brent Davis wants to be practicing on Thanksgiving morning.
Practicing on the holiday means Davis and the Eagles would be preparing for a first-round Football Championship Subdivision playoff game and that would be a first for GSU since abandoning the triple-option offense in 2006.
“Getting into the playoffs would be a great goal for us,” Davis told a recent gathering of GSU supporters at the Greater Savannah Eagle Club.
There’s optimism in the Eagles’ world that the return of the missing blueprint to success - the triple-option offense - will return GSU to its winning ways.
GSU officials hired Jeff Monken as head football coach after the 2009 season. Monken was Paul Johnson’s right-hand man at Georgia Tech, where the option helped the Yellow Jackets to the top of the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Few days go by when Monken isn’t asked to compare the transitions of Georgia Tech and now at Georgia Southern.
Davis went through a less-heralded and probably tougher makeover at Virginia Military Institute.
“There was no one who knew the (triple-option) there, so I was teaching the coaches the same time I was teaching the players,” said Davis, who spent four years with the Keydets.
Davis learned the offense from the best. He was a running backs coach (Monken had the slotbacks) for Johnson from 1997-99 at GSU when the Eagles and their triple-option terrorized Division I-AA. In 1999, with a little help from fullback Adrian Peterson, GSU averaged 419 rushing yards, 551.7 total yards and 50 points per game while winning its fifth national championship.
In 2000-01, Davis assisted Eagles offensive coordinator Mike Sewak, who also coached the line. GSU won 25 of 29 games and another title during those years.
When Johnson was hired away by Navy, Sewak took over as head coach and Davis moved up as the full-time offensive line coach. Three linemen - Charles Clarke, Chad Motte and Albert Turner - earned All-America honors. The Eagles led the division in rushing all four years with Davis as the offensive line coach.
But Sewak was fired after the 2005 season and his staff scattered. Davis landed at VMI, where coach Cal McCombs was looking to change a conventional one-back attack.
“It was a little different situation because VMI’s numbers were so poor when we got there,” Davis said. “They only had 46 out for spring practice (in 2006) so we were worried just building our numbers up…
“We didn’t run as much triple-option to start off with there because we didn’t have the quarterback to do it.”
Davis said the Keydets’ offensive improvement began in the team’s second year.
“(The players) knew the level of expectations, they knew how to practice so we got a lot more done,” he said. “We were much more efficient. We got even better the next year.”
In his third and fourth seasons (then with new head coach Sparky Woods - the former South Carolina head coach), VMI led the FCS in rushing. The addition of former GSU coach Bob Bodine to the staff helped immensely, Davis said.
The Keydets ran for an all-division record 357.5 yards per game in 2008 and 276.7 last season.
The question is: Can Davis and the Eagles’ coaching staff successfully install the triple-option again? GSU averaged only 18.6 points and 279.4 yards per game in a spread passing attack last season. GSU finished with a 5-6 record, only its third losing record since 1982.
“The transition here will be a lot smoother because all the coaches on the staff are on the same page,” Davis said.
Quarterbacks coach Mitch Ware, slotbacks coach Ray Gregory and fullbacks coach Brett Gilliland are all Johnson disciples who coached with Monken.
An experienced triple-option quarterback in Jaybo Shaw, who transferred from Georgia Tech, will be a big part of the puzzle.
“If you want to major in the triple-option, you need the right guy at quarterback,” Davis said. “Athletically, we have two or three guys who can (run the option). They just don’t have the experience. Jaybo has experience and that’s going to help him.”
Davis says help should come from its recruiting class as well. All 27 scholarship freshmen are in school already for voluntary summer workouts.
“I don’t want to put any pressure on the freshmen, but I think there will be some guys who will make an impact,” Davis said. “That will be obvious in the first game (against Savannah State, Sept. 4).”