There’s an old saying by General George S. Patton that goes, “Pressure makes diamonds.”
But what the decorated Army commander left out of that quote was that it also bursts pipes.
And Georgia Southern’s 2016 season can easily be compared to a house that has flooded and had to be rebuilt from the foundation up.
To begin, I’d like to say that with offensive coordinators Rance Gillespie and David Dean gone, and new OC Bryan Cook at the helm, there is hope for the future.
But this article is about 2016.
Kicking off with a blowout win over Savannah State in early September, Eagles fans could tell right off of the bat that something was not quite right, but it was tough to get a handle on. Something was lacking from the Willie Fritz-led era, but the team rolled through the overmatched Tigers, so everyone assumed it was just first game jitters under new head coach Tyson Summers.
Two more closer-than-they-should’ve-been wins over South Alabama and UL Monroe left the fans with a bad taste in their mouths, but hey, the team was 3-0 and 2-0 in the conference. Can’t argue with being undefeated.
From there, the Eagles took to the road to face off against a Western Michigan team it had throttled at Paulson Stadium just a year before, but this was not the same Broncos team we were accustomed to seeing. With the benefit of hindsight, that WMU team was incredibly talented and probably would have beaten Southern had they played in Kalamazoo in 2015.
But the Arkansas State loss was the downturn of this season. GS did everything right defensively, winning the turnover battle by an incredible 5-0 margin, but the offense looked completely inept in that game, and a 4th and 16 conversion by the Red Wolves gave the Eagles their first conference loss of the season.
But all was not lost (yet). Everyone knew ASU was going to give Southern a fight, and the Red Wolves were sloppy, but did enough to win that game.
From there, the stretch to end the season was brutal, as all Eagle fans know. The team defeated just one opponent (NMSU) over its next six games, including home losses to rivals Appalachian State and Georgia State and all hell had broken loose by the time the team was set to face Troy in the season-ender.
From there, things went even further south.
Lesson 1 of social media: the worst thing you can do after losing is to go complete damage control, Tom. pic.twitter.com/E8JSuhFU7n— ChiefKief Sutherland (@WatchTheStone) October 8, 2016
Following the team’s 30-24 loss at the hands of rival Georgia State, Tyson Summers had enough of critical fans on Twitter, blocking many who had said negative things about his ability as coach and the team, thinking maybe it would stop everyone from seeing it? I’m still not so sure of his logic there.
The offense was floundering amidst rumors that the first year head coach had been lying to the fanbase about committing to the triple option, the secondary could not cover anyone, and most fans were calling for Summers’ resignation or termination by mid-November.
But ultimately, the team came together for senior day at Paulson, and the Eagles sent fans home on a positive note, with a 28-24 win over Troy to knock the Trojans out of Sun Belt title contention.
One win does not make a season, and GS fans knew that. Despite most fans calling for Summers’ head, athletic director Tom Kleinlein decided to retain the coach, and Summers rewarded the fan base by canning Gillespie and Dean.
Since that time, many position coaches have also been shown the door or left for greener pastures, but the ineptitude of both offensive coordinators was boiling over, and the first-time head coach had to do something.
So Georgia Tech quarterbacks’ coach Bryan Cook was hired as the new OC, and brought hope for the future to Statesboro since before the season began.
With that said, there are some serious areas of concern. 24 seniors graduated from this year’s team, and it was recently announced that star linebacker Ukeme Eligwe was leaving GS for the NFL.
Both Summers and Cook have their work cut out for them in 2017, and there are many questions regarding the roster moving forward. The only two entrenched skill position players returning on offense are running backs L.A. Ramsby and Wesley Fields.
No one knows as of this writing what the offense will look like, or who will even start at quarterback until practice begins in the spring.
But if Tyson Summers wants to coach the Eagles for another season beyond 2017, he’ll need to put together a season better than he did in 2016.