STATESBORO — Georgia Southern quarterback Shai Werts got his first taste Saturday of the speed of the types of defenses he will face at the college level.
That decision on whether to pitch the option or cut upfield had to be made a split second sooner. That pass on the slant over the middle had to be there before a defensive lineman got to him.
And when things went wrong, he was still fast enough to avoid trouble.
Werts dazzled on several occasions as he eluded defenders and picked up positive yardage on plays that appeared to be going nowhere. He also exploded through the middle on an option keeper for a 16-yard score in the second half of a spring game that was mostly situational drills and didn’t have a final score. The Blue team consisted only of offensive players, while the White team was made up of defensive players.
“I was really excited to see that there were some plays that we would refer to as ‘busts,’ and in particular you saw Shai Werts make some plays happen because of those things,” GS head coach Tyson Summers said. “I thought Shai did a nice job taking some plays that should have been negative yards and being able to make some positive plays out of them.”
Werts turned in a standout performance at Georgia Southern’s Blue and White game at Paulson Stadium, rushing for 98 yards and a touchdown as Eagles fans got a sneak peak of what the offense might look like under new offensive coordinator Bryan Cook.
Werts, a redshirt freshman, may be at the center of that offense, which emphasized the triple option from the shotgun on Saturday. After speculation arose that Werts was in a two-man battle for the starting quarterback position with sophomore Seth Shuman, all signs given on Saturday pointed toward Werts being the clear frontrunner.
Werts ran the offense with the Eagles’ best skill position players, including running back Wesley Fields and slotback/receiver Myles Campbell.
Werts also has a history with Cook, who came to Statesboro after spending three seasons as the quarterbacks coach at Georgia Tech. Werts said Cook tried to recruit him to play for Tech.
“When he got the job, he called me, hit me up,” he said about Cook. “I was pretty excited to have him. He’s a great coach, great guy. I really love playing for him.”
The Georgia Southern defense didn’t give Werts anything easy. A young group of defensive linemen and linebackers held their own and didn’t miss many tackles.
“Those boys really came to play today,” Werts said. “They’ve been practicing with us and going with the offense for about two weeks now, so they kind of have a feeling with what we do. That was the challenging part, but I thought the offensive line did a great job, and the running backs and receivers did a great job.”
Taking his first snap since he was a high school senior in the fall of 2015, Werts said it was a challenge adjusting to the pace of the game.
“Guys are a lot faster than high school, so you’ve got to think on the go, you’ve got to move fast,” he said. “Really, the speed of the game has changed a lot for me. Being the quarterback, you’ve got to slow the game down. You can’t let the defense dictate the pace you play at.”
Werts even got hit a handful of times. Summers said he told his defense to let up if they had a clear shot at sacking Werts or Shuman or quarterback LaBaron Anthony, but he wanted the option to feel as real as possible.
“I think down the road, I mean it’s as game-like as it can get,” Summers said. “Coach Cook and I have spent a lot of time over the last couple of weeks kind of talking about today. Are the quarterbacks going to go in a red jersey and be live or are we going to let the quarterbacks be tackled? When it came to running the ball and running the option, it was we’ve got to see who can go make plays for us. I think in the long run that’s going to help those guys have a better feel.”
Sometimes the defense thought they had him down but they really had no opportunity. It was a little bit of a reality check for both sides for what a true game is like.”