Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Bortle: In Georgia Southern, UMass can see a blueprint to future success

The Eagles’ beat UMass 41-0
Nina Walat/Daily Collegian

There was no doubt Georgia Southern was the better team at Allen E. Paulson Stadium on Saturday. The Eagles (3-1, 1-1 Sun Belt) dominated play for most—if not all—of the 60 minutes of their 41-0 win over Massachusetts.

For coaches, players and fans of the Minutemen, Saturday afternoon’s performance was not pretty to watch. However, Georgia Southern’s success should offer UMass (0-1) a glimpse into what could be a few years down the line.

The Eagles offense looked borderline unstoppable for stretches of their win. Less than seven minutes into the game, they already led 14-0. By halftime, the score was 28-0 in favor of Georgia Southern. The Eagles didn’t even have to punt the ball once in the first half.

All that is to say, Georgia Southern, a team that made the jump to the FBS in 2014, shows that a team can successfully make the move between subdivisions when a coach is given the chance to implement their system.

The Eagles’ coach Chad Lunsford has been at the helm since 2017, compiling a 19-13 record and appearing in bowl games in each of his two full seasons. The team runs a triple option attack and watching Georgia Southern on Saturday showed how dangerous an offense can be with the right players in place to perform.

An offense like the Eagles’ requires a particular mold of players to execute properly. Shai Werts, the Eagles’ quarterback, orchestrated the offense to perfection, going 11 for 16 for 128 yards through the air and rushed the ball 13 times for 76 yards. With four total touchdowns and a few key pitches on the option to spring big plays, Werts flashed why he was brought to Statesboro, Ga. in the first place; to steer the triple option.

The Eagles’ offensive line needs to be athletic, willing to get downhill and run block for the run-heavy attack. Georgia Southern’s linemen do just that, winning the battle in the trenches to the average of over 275 yards per game.

In the same way Lunsford had a vision for his Eagles team, UMass head coach Walt Bell has vision for what his team will play like.

“The vision of what we want this program to be is a very large, very long, very blue collar, run heavy and physical football team,” Bell said earlier this week. “A team that can run the football and stop the run and win games in November in the elements when you have to win games to go to the first bowl game in the history of the school.”

It is important to note that Bell only has one full recruiting class under his belt—this year’s freshmen. With a clear blueprint, UMass’ hope is that the underclassmen can develop and put the team in a position to succeed a few years down the line.

While Georgia Southern’s jump to FBS went smoother immediately upon entry—the Eagles went 8-0 in the Sun Belt in 2014—its model shows that sticking to script and developing talent can translate to a winner.

“If this young group can stay together, and stay tight, and survive whatever the future holds for us,” Bell said, “we’re going to have a chance to be a good football program.”

Afterall, UMass’ youth showed at times that they had talented players on both sides of the ball. Josh Wallace broke up two touchdowns in the endzone. All three quarterbacks flashed dual-threat ability. Samuel Emilus hauled in a few tough grabs. The defensive line blew up some plays in the backfield.

While UMass might not put together a visually appealing product in 2020, the season was never about current success. Its about getting a young team the most playing time possible—and in UMass and the coaching staff’s minds—building a contender in the same way the team on the other sideline today did.

Noah Bortle can be reached at [email protected]. Followed him on Twitter @noah_bortle.

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