Georgia Southern Pummels No. 2 William & Mary
Georgia Southern confuses William & Mary with its triple-option offense and defense to upset the CAA co-champion
Special to the College Sporting News
WILLIAMSBURG, Va. – The Georgia Southern Eagles are making a habit this season of shocking the best teams in the Football Championship Subdivision.
After knocking off No. 1 Appalachian State in the regular season, the Eagles took out second-seeded William & Mary — the winner of the Colonial Athletic Association auto bid — 31-15 Saturday at Zable Stadium.
Georgia Southern gave the Tribe an advance class in triple-option football and FCS history on the way to a victory in the second round of the NCAA Division I Football Championship.
GSU (9-4) advanced to the FCS quarterfinals for the first time since 2002. The Eagles will play at Wofford either Friday or Saturday at a time still to be determined.
“We’re just trying to make the most of (the playoffs),” GSU coach Jeff Monken said. “There’s something very special about this football team.”
The Eagles used common ingredients for a special win. Their triple-option offense shredded the Tribe defense for 423 yards, 251 in the second half when they scored on all three of their full possessions.
GSU was inside the William & Mary 20 on the final possession before quarterback Jaybo Shaw took a knee with the victory in hand.
The win, witnessed by approximately 1,500 GSU fans among the 8,243 in attendance, could read like another amazing chapter in Eagles postseason lore.
Knocked out in the first quarter a week ago in the first round against South Carolina State, Shaw went the distance Saturday and scored on touchdowns of one, 18, and three yards.
True freshman fullback Robert Brown, who has struggled with fumbles this season, had a career-high 178 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries.
And the defense, a leaky faucet of yardage and points a year ago, did not allow a William & Mary touchdown.
This came against a Tribe squad that was ranked No. 1 by The Sports Network/Fathead.com top 25 poll on Nov. 8.
William & Mary advanced to the semifinals last season before losing to eventual champion Villanova, 14-13.
This year’s squad had greater expectations, particularly after playing North Carolina tough before surrendering two fourth-quarter touchdowns and losing 21-17.
But the Tribe (8-4) doesn’t play against many teams that run an option offense — particularly the triple option. It allowed just 121.9 yards a game on the ground all year.
Ironically, one of William & Mary's regular-season defeats came at the hands of James Madison, which didn't pass at all as it ran a different style of option in a 30-24 victory.
Even with two weeks to prepare for a possible matchup with the Eagles, the Tribe seemed unprepared.
As much trouble as William & Mary had with the Eagle offense, the Georgia Southern defense left a similar impact, laying numerous big hits on Tribe players throughout the game.
“I think we took the field thinking we could play with (William & Mary),” said GSU nose guard Brent Russell, who put an end to the Tribe’s misery with a sack of quarterback Mike Callahan on William & Mary’s last play of 2010.
And why shouldn’t they have been confident? Georgia Southern defeated top-ranked Appalachian State 21-14 in overtime on Nov. 6 and hasn’t lost since, running its winning string to six games against the Tribe.
The Eagles needed just four plays to go 61 yards for a touchdown on their first possession against William & Mary.
So the Tribe made some adjustments for the second half, right?
GSU needed just four plays to go 81 yards for a touchdown on its first possession after intermission.
“I guess their coaches get paid to coach too,” said William & Mary linebacker Evan Francks.
“We didn’t play like we did at the end of the season, but give (GSU) credit, they had something to do with it,” Tribe coach Jimmye Laycock said.
The Eagles stayed with the co-champions of the CAA in the first half, but three field goals by Drake Kuhn and a Francks’ interception return for a touchdown gave the Tribe a 15-14 advantage.
Southern led 14-6 but the Franck’s interception gave the hosts a much-needed jolt with 6 minutes and 25 seconds left in the half.
William & Mary failed to tie the game when Moody dropped a two-point conversion pass, but five minutes later Kuhn drilled a 33-yard field goal to complete a 12-play, 60-yard drive.
But the Eagles gained a lot of confidence during the opening 30 minutes. Shaw’s option pitch to Brown went for 45 yards on GSU’s first play from scrimmage.
On the fourth play, Brown scored from the 6 to put the Eagles ahead 7-0.
The Tribe inched back slowly. Callahan and tied end Alex Gottlieb combined for a 4-yard gain to squeeze out a first down on a third-and-4 play at midfield.
Six plays later, Kuhn hit a 32-yard field goal to make it 7-3.
Kuhn added another field goal from 36 yards with five seconds left in the first quarter to get William & Mary within one.
But Southern’s option offense clicked again. Laron Scott’s kickoff return to the 46 ignited a 10-play, 54-yard drive that ended when Shaw dove in the endzone from the 1.
After falling behind at half, Southern roared back. The Eagles outgained the Tribe 163-16 in the third quarter while scoring 10 straight points to pull ahead 24-15.
And William & Mary disastrous day was growing. A key holding call negated a 44-yard pass play from Callahan to Ryan Moody to the GSU 8 late in the third quarter.
Shaw added his final touchdown early in the fourth quarter.
“I think our team is playing its best football right now,” Monken said.