STATESBORO, Ga. -- Paul Johnson re-introduced the forward pass to Georgia Southern on Saturday.
The first-year coach promised to open up the offense and his spread attack needed little time flattening its first victim.
Quarterbacks Kenny Robinson and Greg Hill combined to throw for 280 yards as the Eagles rolled to a 45-26 season-opening victory over Division II Valdosta State before 10,572 fans at Paulson Stadium.
It was an encouraging showing for a squad that won only four games a year ago. Southern led 39-7 after three quarters before squandering some of the lead in a sloppy fourth quarter.
"We can be a really great football team," said slotback Corey Joyner, who had three catches for 153 yards and two touchdowns. "We didn't play our best game and we still put 45 points on the board."
Certainly the passing attack loosened up a Blazer defense that was prepared to stop a Georgia Southern run offense that led the Southern Conference and finished fifth in the nation in Division I-AA while averaging 266.5 yards a game last year.
By halftime, however, Robinson's 202 yards on 8-of-11 passing attempts already ranked 15th among top Eagle single-game performances. He threw only one more time (an incompletion) in the second half.
"We didn't have a game plan where we said we were going to run or pass a certain amount of times," Robinson said. "We did a good job mixing it up."
But Johnson's spread offense that was so successful at Navy last season gave Southern opportunities through the air. The Ea
les averaged only 130 passing yards a game last season and that's was their best average since 1990.
When Johnson was offensive coordinator under Erk Russell in 1986, the Eagles averaged 172.8 yards through the air a game.
Robinson, who scored on a 1-yard run to begin Saturday's rout, equaled his number of touchdown passes of last season by tossing scoring strikes of 60 and 25 yards to Joyner before halftime.
Hill scored on runs of 14, 1 and 23 yards and Roderick Russell added a third-quarter 5-yard touchdown run.
Equally encouraging for Georgia Southern fans was a defense that limited a Blazer attack to 181 yards after three quarters. One fourth-quarter VSU touchdown was the result of a fumble return.
"We didn't throw the ball a whole lot but in this offense you don't have to throw it a lot to be effective," said Johnson, who was hired to replace interim coach Frank Ellwood in November.
Southern displayed interest in forcing the action early. On the Eagles' first offensive play, Joyner took a Robinson shovel pass 68 yards to the Valdosta State 2.
"It hard to start a game much better," Johnson said.
Actually, it was Johnson and Robinson meshing together to ensure success. Johnson's call was a short hitch pass but an audible was to be called if Valdosta State was in an incompatible defense.
Robinson read the defense and switched the play to the shovel pass.
Two plays later, Robinson dove in from the 1.
But the Blazers fought back and appeared to reverse the momentum. An apparent 29-yard completion from Ole Miss transfer quarterback Jason Vaughan to wideout Winston Williams to the Eagles 1 was negated by a holding penalty.
Eventually, Valdosta State was forced to punt.
"I thought that might have been the biggest play of the game," said VSU's first-year coach Mike Kelly. "Had we put the ball in the end zone maybe we could have put some doubt in (the Eagles') minds."
The Blazers had another chance midway through the second quarter when a fumble by Robinson laid tantalizingly among a group of defenders. But Robinson out-wrestled a Valdosta State lineman for the loose ball.
On the next play, Robinson lofted a perfect pass to Joyner, who had a step on safety Jarmal Stevens, for a 60-yard score.
It was the first of three straight touchdown possessions for Southern which opened up a 25-0 halftime advantage - its biggest lead at intermission since 1994.
"I think we made a positive statement about this team," said Hill, who ran for a team-high 97 yards. "We still need to correct some mental mistakes but I think we showed some people we have the chance to a pretty good football team."
Valdosta broke up the shutout midway through the third quarter when Mike Bowman broke a tackle and completed a 33-yard scoring play from Vaughan.
But Southern kept scoring. Hill sandwiched his two second-half run around a short Russell TD blast.
Vontrell Mitchell, who ran for 83 yards, scored twice for the Blazers in the fourth quarter.
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