MACON—It’s a season of change for the Georgia Southern University football team.
The Eagles will be competing in the Football Bowl Subdivision for the first time, after 30 years in Division I-AA/Football Champion-
ship Subdivision. Paulson Stadium, their home for 30 years, was expanded to a capacity of nearly 25,000.
And Southern’s trademark offense is undergoing a remake of its own.
New coach Willie Fritz, who took over Jan. 10 when Jeff Monken left to be the coach at Army, is bringing in a different offense from the Eagles’ vaunted triple option — though it may not be so different from what Southern put into play last year.
The Eagles offensive line returns three starters in center Manrey Saint-Amour, left guard Trevor McBurnett and left tackle Garrett Frye. Frye was an all-American selection last year, and the Eagles also bring back Logan Daves, who started in 2011.
But with a new scheme, Fritz and his staff need a different kind of lineman. Instead of the cut-blocking and firing off the ball quickly, the new scheme will employ more zone blocking techniques.
“The biggest challenge for us was on the offensive line,” he said.
To that end, Fritz and his staff signed five offensive linemen, averaging 6-foot-3 and 314 pounds. The three returning starters average 6-2, 299.
“We needed to get a lot bigger. We signed some really big offensive linemen,” Fritz said. “Speed was more critical with the offense they were running. We needed more size. We needed some beef and some mass.”
The Eagles ran much more pistol and shotgun sets last year, and Fritz said the offense he has in mind is a lot like what Southern ran last year.
“The team has adapted to it very well,” he said. “There is a triple option component to it.”
The quarterbacks have taken a liking to it, Fritz said, even if he doesn’t expect to air it out as much as they would like. Fritz estimated the Eagles will throw the ball about 15 to 20 times a game.
Fritz’s Sam Houston State teams averaged 24 passes a game last year and averaged 450 yards per game. In 2012, the Bearkats scored 40 points per game, throwing 22 passes per game and racking up 458.5 yards an outing.
The Eagles, in their season-ending 26-20 win over Florida, did not complete a pass.
“They have been very ecstatic,” Fritz said of the quarterbacks. “They want to throw 40, 50, 60 times a game, and we’re not going to do that.”
Fritz led Sam Houston State to FCS championship game appearances in 2011 and 2012, and he guided Blinn (Texas) Junior College to NJCAA national championships in 1995-96. Southern is his fifth stop as a head coach and he is the first coach since the program restarted not to have a previous connection to the school or the state.
“I’m getting my feet on the ground and learning about the university and the state of Georgia as well,” he said. “It’s exciting to be at Georgia Southern and we’re looking forward to completing at the highest level.”
Fritz made a blitz of the state during the Eagles’ annual coaches caravan, meeting GSU fans and boosters across Georgia and understanding how devoted the fan base is.
“We had 10 caravans and we had some fans who were at every one of them,” he said.
Fritz acknowledged Georgia Southern’s move to FBS helped lure him to Statesboro. Southern’s move to the FBS and the Sun Belt Conference — though the Eagles won’t be eligible to compete for the conference title and a potential bowl berth until 2015 — also has fans eager, Fritz said.
“There is tremendous excitement,” he said. “They are very excited about this move up from I-AA football to Division I. I told our fans and everyone at the press conference that the goal is to have the same type of success at the Division I level that Georgia Southern has had at the I-AA level. The alums and fans of Georgia Southern are very passionate. They love Georgia Southern football, without question.”