Nebraska Opponent Spring Review: Georgia Southern
As Nebraska enters a critical fifth season under head coach Scott Frost in 2022, we decided to look at where things stand with the Huskers’ 12 opponents coming out of spring practices.
Today, we continue with Georgia Southern, which is coming off a disappointing 3-9 campaign but has renewed optimism under new head coach Clay Helton. Nathan Dominitz of the Savannah (Ga.) Morning News gave us his thoughts on the Eagles before their Week 2 trip to Lincoln.
Three spring storylines to know
1. The Clay Helton era begins
Four games into the 2021 season, Georgia Southern decided it was time to make a change and fired head coach Chad Lunsford after a 1-3 start.
It just so happened that a high-profile coach had just gone on the market a couple of weeks earlier when USC fired Clay Helton after two games.
On Nov. 2, GSU officially announced Helton as its new head coach. After letting the interim staff finish the season, Helton took the program's reins in December.
With a Pac-12 championship and Rose Bowl victory recently under his belt, Helton brings some significant changes to the Eagles on and off the field.
Expectations are high for him in Statesboro, as a program that won six national titles at the I-AA level is anxious to get back to sustained success. Helton is as big of a name as Georgia Southern was going to find, and plenty of excitement and optimism have built up since his arrival.
2. A massive overhaul on offense
While almost every other college football program has gravitated to the pass-heavy offenses of today's game, Georgia Southern had always been one of the last true triple-option teams.
That will change in a big way with Helton now running the show.
The Eagles were a team that oftentimes only threw the ball 5-10 times per game, as they averaged nearly 200 yards rushing per game last season.
Now they're taking on a balanced offensive scheme that plans to utilize more vertical passing to create explosive plays downfield. GSU brought in multiple skill position transfers to make that transition happen as quickly as possible.
Fans got their first look at the new system in the spring game a few weeks ago, and it became immediately apparent that Georgia Southern would look a lot different in the future.
3. A familiar name takes over at quarterback
If the name Kyle Vantrease rings a bell to Nebraska fans, there is a reason why.
The Huskers just saw the former Buffalo quarterback last fall when the Bulls played at Memorial Stadium. Vantrease has since transferred from UB and is now the frontrunner to take over as the starter at Georgia Southern.
The sixth-year senior threw for 1,861 yards and eight touchdowns in 2021. That included going 27-of-50 for 224 yards and an interception in a 28-3 loss to the Huskers.
Oddly enough, Vantrease also bombed an 81-yard punt in that game, marking the fourth-longest punt by a Nebraska opponent and the longest since 1995.
Now with the Eagles, Vantrease took nearly every first-team rep during spring ball. While GSU won't officially name a starter until fall camp, all signs point to him returning to Lincoln for a rematch as the starter on Sept. 10.
Early outlook on Nebraska vs. Georgia Southern
Dominitz: “I don’t think you want to throw out the record books with this one. I would expect Nebraska to be deeper and more talented across the board. Of course, they don’t want to take anyone lightly or anything, but Georgia Southern is coming off a 3-9 campaign with a brand-new head coach and almost entirely new coaching staff.
"A lot of key players have transferred in at quarterback, wide receiver, tight end, and on defense, and a couple of players in the defensive backfield. They’re going to get some players back that were injured last year. But in the second game of the season, I still think Georgia Southern is going to need a big adjustment period playing on the road in Lincoln, which is never easy for anybody.
"I’m old, and I can say that’s been true since the Tom Osborne days. But I would say on paper and in real life, Nebraska should win and be expected to win the game. Georgia Southern has a lot of new qualities to them, and if they have a hot start to the season and things just click, they could be dangerous. That’s hard to say in May, but they could be dangerous at some point next season.”
2022 win-loss expectation for Georgia Southern
Dominitz: “There’s a lot of stuff for them to adjust to over the course of the season. There’s also the fact that the Sun Belt Conference got an influx of football schools a year ahead of originally expected.
"Marshall, James Madison, Southern Miss, and Old Dominion have been added to the schedule. So of the four new teams (in the Sun Belt), three are on the schedule. The East Division is really strong for the Sun Belt Conference, and that’s where Georgia Southern is.
"For them to win six or seven games might be overly optimistic, but it also might be reachable. I think if they have a winning record, or close to it, that would be considered progress based on their schedule and where they are as a new program.”