A year ago, Georgia Southern ran the ball 626 times for 3,964 yards - 6.3 yards a carry and an average of 360 yards in its 11 games. While the Eagles weren't eligible for any mythical rushing championships as a transitional member between FCS and FBS, they led all of Division I, 32 yards a game over second-place Auburn, and fifth among all teams in college football.
That success led head coach Jeff Monken to taking the Army job, to be replaced by Sam Houston State head coach Willie Fritz. And now, with a new staff and a new, more challenging conference, the Eagles' rushing attack has gotten better.
Fritz and his staff have proven to be the perfect marriage between Georgia Southern's triple option foundation and Fritz's spread option scheme.
"Forever around here at Georgia Southern — with the exception, I guess, of one or two years, they've just been a true man-blocking triple-option scheme," offensive coordinator Doug Ruse told Nicole Auerbach of USA Today. "We've had to transition to a zone, which is probably about 70% of what we do in the running game, all off the inside zone. It all looks different, but that's the base scheme up front for the O-line. That was the biggest hurdle — we had to teach different footwork, a little bit slower tempo and mentality coming off the ball. …
"We're still running the option, which Georgia Southern has done around here for a very long time and has done extremely well. We're just doing it from a zone scheme with a quarterback in the gun. That's the biggest difference."
"The biggest difference wasn't for the quarterbacks, running backs or receivers — it was for the offensive line. We're more of a zone blocking team with our offensive line," Fritz echoed. "They were more of a fire-off-the-line kind of offensive line. Those guys had the biggest adjustment, that's been the real secret for us. Well, it's not a secret — we've got a really good offensive line."
Every new head coach dreams of stepping into a situation where five of his top six offensive linemen are seniors, which is the gift Monken left behind for the new staff.
Georgia Southern has taken the Sun Belt by storm, threatening to win the league in their debut season. The Eagles are 6-2, with losses to N.C. State by one and Georgia Tech by four, a play here or there from maybe playing themselves into a College Football Playoff New Year's Six bowl.
Everything came to a head Saturday, when the Eagles dropped 69 points and 613 rushing yards on upstate rival Georgia State. Georgia Southern scored 10 touchdowns and punted once.
Those 613 yards push the team's rushing average to 400.38 per game, nearly 50 yards ahead of everyone else in Division I and third in college football. For Fritz, his ground-before-air philosophy is rooted in the most basic of all statistics: winning.
"In over 22 years as a head coach, we've won over 91% of our games when we had one more yard rushing (than our opponent)," he said. "We set our offense up to be able to run the ball effectively, and our defense to stop people from running the ball."