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Experience key to GSU offensive line improvement
To best understand how far Georgia Southern’s offensive line has come, it’s important to realize where it’s been.
In 2009, the Eagles were 103rd in the Football Championship Subdivision in rushing. Sure, they thought pass first, but the aerial attack on occasion only led them backward. GSU allowed 43 sacks (3.91 a game) that season, ranking 114th among 118 FCS teams.
But Jeff Monken, GSU’s new head coach in 2010, saw something in his inherited linemen. And as if playing a shell game, he shuffled a tackle to center, another tackle to guard, a long snapper to right tackle and added a true freshman to left tackle.
The combo, and a new focus on the run, helped GSU produce 261.2 rushing yards a game, the fourth-best rushing team average in the nation in 2010.
Part of the improvement could be attributed to the triple-option offensive scheme.
But Monken saw other factors which led to some big numbers and bodes well for the upcoming season.
“I don’t know what I was convinced of in camp last season,” Monken said. “But this has been a special group. They work well together. They care about each other and they’re well-coached. There were games (last season) they played really well together and some games they didn’t, but they kept working and getting better.”
Right tackle Brett Moore, who was used as a long snapper and goal-line tight end as a sophomore, seemingly came out of nowhere to become an All-Southern Conference first-team performer in his first year as a starter last season.
Two years ago, Brandavious Mann played tackle. But Monken and offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Brent Davis shifted Mann to center.
That allowed Dorian Byrd, a true freshman last season, to take over at left tackle. Byrd is being moved to guard this season, and Blake DeBartola will switch from guard to tackle. William Maxwell, who came to GSU as a tackle, remains at right guard.
The quintet powered the ground game to 287.5 yards a game during the final six games in 2010 — with four games against playoff teams.
“Getting snaps as a unit, it’s very important,” Moore said. “We work every day together. We’re in the meeting rooms together. You’re working with the man beside you. It’s five people working together on every play.”
The turning point for the line was hard to pinpoint. GSU had 431 rushing yards in a lopsided win over Savannah State in the 2010 season opener, but a week later, made almost nothing happen in a 73-yard effort against Navy.
Monken remained encouraged.
“The offensive line and the running backs put up some good numbers against Elon (379 yards), South Carolina State (323 yards) and William & Mary (423 yards), but I saw some good blocks even in some of the losses,” Monken said.
GSU might have played one of its best games in defeating William & Mary, 31-15, in the second round of the playoffs. The Tribe, a No. 2 seed from the highly regarded Colonial Athletic Association, had two weeks to prepare for the Eagles’ triple option.
But Southern rarely slowed down and the line dominated the line of scrimmage, allowing the running backs to average more than seven yards a rushing attempt.
“The coaches put a great plan together, and when we got up there, we executed it against a quality team,” Moore said. “But I thought we really turned it around as a team against Appalachian State.”
On that day, GSU pulled off an improbable 21-14 victory in overtime over the top-ranked Mountaineers.
“I think that’s when everyone started to realize just what we needed to do, Moore said. “There was a change of culture and philosophy (when Monken took over). It just took a little time. It’s not like we didn’t want to win or we weren’t trying to work. It just took a little time for everybody to become a cohesive unit.”
The future continues to look good for the offensive line. Seven of the 10 linemen in the two-deep depth chart will be back next season.
Backup left tackle Garrett Frye and backup center Manrey Saint-Amour are true freshmen.
“Last year, everybody was learning at the same time,” Moore said. “We didn’t have anyone to help us but the coaches. Now this year, we have the coaches and us veterans. We understand the offense a little more and we can help bring up the freshmen and the younger guys.”
By Donald Heath, Savannah Morning News