When Chad Lunsford visited his mentor over the summer, the Georgia Southern head football coach didn't talk about his team's juggernaut Week 1 opponent.
Lunsford was more interested in asking Tulane coach Willie Fritz about head coaching and program building than talking about No. 6 LSU, which Georgia Southern plays at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at Tiger Stadium.
The 42-year-old Lunsford was seeking advice that could help him build on Georgia Southern's 10-3 record last season.
See, Lunsford and Fritz are both part of the coaching fraternity in Statesboro, Georgia, that has built a football program that won six Division I-AA (FCS) national championships from 1985 to 2000, plus both its bowl games and a Sun Belt Conference championship since making the jump to FBS in 2014.
At the center of that success is a constantly changing laboratory of confounding offensive schemes, which has kept Georgia Southern more than competitive in a region dominated by Alabama, Clemson and Georgia.
LSU is four days away from its season opener against Georgia Southern, and the Tigers held their first full-pads practice of the regular seaso…
Perhaps you'll recognize some names of past coaches.
Paul Johnson, three-time ACC Coach of the Year at Georgia Tech?
He hid a run-and-shoot offense inside of a flexbone scheme and led Georgia Southern to back-to-back I-AA championships in 1985 and 1986 as an offensive coordinator under legendary head coach Erk Russell.
Johnson returned to Statesboro as a head coach in the late '90s, won two more championships, then brought the flexbone to the national stage at Navy and Georgia Tech.
How about Army coach Jeff Monken?
He was a Johnson disciple as an assistant at Georgia Southern, Navy and Georgia Tech before he took over the Eagles program in 2010. Georgia Southern went to three consecutive FCS semifinals with Monken's flexbone option offense, and the Eagles upset Florida 26-20 in 2013.
Monken is still frustrating top programs at Army, which went 11-2 in 2018 with a 28-21 overtime loss to Oklahoma, an eventual playoff team.
And Florida wasn't the only Southeastern Conference team to struggle against Georgia Southern.
Georgia squeaked by with a 23-17 win in overtime against Fritz's spread option Eagles in 2015, and Ole Miss had to come from two scores behind to beat Georgia Southern 37-27 in 2016.
Former LSU defensive back Kelvin Joseph has transferred to Kentucky, the Wildcats athletic department confirmed Tuesday morning.
No, this isn't a bottom-feeding program that LSU agreed to pay $925,000 just to lay down and take a bludgeoning.
And Georgia Southern's offense is expected to be as tricky as ever.
The Eagles averaged 30.5 points per game in 2018. Junior quarterback Shai Werts rushed for 908 yards with 15 touchdowns and passed for 987 yards and 10 touchdowns. He was the only FBS quarterback to not throw an interception last year.
That efficiency forced LSU to table its new commitment to aggressive defensive schemes in favor of a more assignment-based scheme that requires patience and discipline.
Since school started a week later this year, LSU had an extra unencumbered week of meetings and walk-throughs to prepare for Georgia Southern — the opponent that stands in the way of LSU's showdown against No. 10 Texas in Austin the following week.
"We had a bonus week," LSU coach Ed Orgeron said Monday. "Thank God we did."
It took more than 20 minutes for Joe Burrow's name to come up in LSU's first news conference of the 2019 regular season.
So what makes this Georgia Southern offense so complicated?
Well, let's start with what it has in common from those in the past: The Johnson, Monken and Fritz offenses were all essentially built to beat defenses in a numbers game.
They're all trying to take specific defenders out of the play, Lunsford said, with the quarterback reading a defender and/or pitching off another defender.
Johnson's and Monken's offenses both placed the quarterback under center, and Fritz essentially used the same concepts with the quarterback placed in the shotgun.
Fritz crafted his "spread option" attack at Blinn (Texas) Junior College and Division II Central Missouri, and then he led Sam Houston State to consecutive FCS championship appearances in 2011 and 2012.
Georgia Southern offensive coordinator Bob DeBesse was Fritz's coordinator at Sam Houston State, and he still uses some of Fritz's schemes with a few differences.
The Fritz offense, Lunsford said, is mostly a double-option attack, built on zone reads and speed options to the sideline that only require a quarterback and one running back.
When DeBesse left Sam Houston State to become the offensive coordinator at New Mexico, he made his shotgun option offense a triple-option attack.
It's the same three options as Johnson's and Monken's offenses: 1) the quarterback can hand the ball off to a running back, 2) pull the ball and run it himself, or 3) decide to pitch the ball to a second running back.
It's all just operating in the shotgun.
"That allows you maybe to get into more multiple formations, more sets," Lunsford said, "being able to disguise different things and still run your same offense."
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The diversity of formations keeps the defense from getting into a comfortable groove, where it can call plays and arrange defensive assignments that will be consistent throughout the game.
Georgia Southern used three different formations on three consecutive plays in a touchdown drive during its 34-14 regular season win over then-No. 25 Appalachian State, the eventual Sun Belt champion.
On the first play, the Eagles used a one-back, four-wide receiver formation (pictured right) that looked like any standard spread passing team. Except, before the snap, the slot receiver motioned across the field to become the pitch man, the third option, in the run play. Werts chose the first option, handed the ball off to former running back Wesley Fields for a 32-yard gain.
The second play, Georgia Southern used three running backs, which included a DeBesse staple: an extra blocker called the "cruiser." The cruiser is essentially a tight end, H-back or running back who blocks the back side or lead on the option. The cruiser lined up behind the right tackle (pictured left) and was the lead blocker on a speed option to the right, in which Werts gained four yards.
LSU outside linebacker K'Lavon Chaisson said that's the feeling defenders have to fight when they're focusing on the same keys "forever and ever, doing the same thing over and over and over again."
LSU's defensive calls will change throughout the game, but someone will always defend the quarterback, someone will defend the dive and someone will defend the pitch.
Over and over and over and over.
"But the moment you slip up," Chaisson said, "he's going to make it a big gain."
Quarterback Joe Burrow expressed excitement for LSU's new offense, which the Tigers will debut Saturday night against Georgia Southern.
That's exactly what happened to Appalachian State on the third play.
Georgia Southern ran a standard triple option out of the shotgun, the inside linebacker with quarterback responsibility got caught up with the dive man, and Werts rushed for a 47-yard touchdown. The lane was also opened up since the cruiser ran toward the opposite sideline, drawing a safety away from the play.
So assignment football is the premium for LSU, Orgeron said, not the sacks and tackles for loss that he's challenged his defensive linemen to pile up in 2019.
The Tigers defensive line will be somewhat reverting to their read-and-react tendencies of 2018, and Georgia Southern's zone blocking schemes remind senior defensive end Breiden Fehoko of how Mississippi State blocked LSU with its run-pass option offense (the RPO is essentially a triple option, where the third option is a pass).
And after all that dedication and all that focus on the run, Georgia Southern can easily catch defenses off guard with a pass play, since the offense is already in a spread formation.
"All of a sudden it's wide open," Orgeron said, and the Eagles tend to favor wheel routes with their running backs.
That's plenty of studying to keep LSU occupied and from peeking at its top 10 opponent the following week.
"All your time is looking at the triple option, how we're going to defend it," Orgeron said. "There's been no other distractions."
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