Fans of Salisbury football know what to expect from the Sea Gull offense on most plays.
The Sea Gulls run a triple-option offense, meaning on each play, the quarterback has the “option” to hand the ball off up the middle, keep it himself or pitch it to another back to the outside.
This offense is familiar to many college football fans, and many schools utilize it to gain chunk yardage on the ground and wear down opposing defenses.
But Salisbury’s offense has added an additional wrinkle to the typical triple-option scheme, which has brought it to a new level in 2019.
The Sea Gulls are throwing the ball, and they’ve been efficient through the air as well.
For context, Salisbury slung the rock 46 times in 2018. With two games left to play, it has 84 pass attempts.
It’s bringing in over four and a half times more passing yards per game at 121.6 in each contest. This ranks over almost a hundred yards over last season’s mark of 26.5 passing yards per game.
Salisbury has not seen this level of passing success since the 2015 season, when junior quarterback Ryan Jones chucked the rock 118 times for 1,232 yards and 13 touchdowns.
The Sea Gull offense is averaging 445 yards per game this season. This is in large part due to the increased role of the improved aerial attack.
While the rushing yards are down from last season on a per-game basis, the overall offense for Salisbury has taken a significant step forward.
Having this in the offensive arsenal could be important as Salisbury heads into the NCAA Tournament. It will likely have to square off against some of the better defenses in Division III football, defenses that have seen plenty of triple-option looks throughout the year.
Head coach Sherman Wood said the ability of the players this season has helped the staff be more creative in their offensive looks.
“This year, and the past couple of years, we’ve been able to recruit some pretty good wide receivers with some good size, guys that can play and stretch the field,” Wood said. “Once you stretch that field, anything and everything opens up; the run, the pass or whatever the case may be.”
A large reason for the increased role of the air attack has been the standout play of sophomore quarterback Jack Lanham. While he was not originally slated as the starter for 2019, he has done more than enough to earn the starting job for the remainder of the season and for the foreseeable future.
Lanham has completed 37 of his 67 attempts for 712 yards with eight touchdowns and one interception. He also leads the Sea Gulls in rushing, notching 80 carries for 496 yards and six touchdowns through seven games.
The sophomore is also the only player on the roster to earn two NJAC Player of the Week awards this season.
Lanham said the aggressiveness of the offense has helped the players succeed in different situations.
“I think it starts with our play-calling, because we’re a lot more aggressive this year,” Lanham said. “It’s a credit to the coaches calling the plays … when they call the plays, they believe in us to do it and it, gives me confidence to make the throws.”
After suffering an injury last season, Lanham developed in his role as a leader on the team despite not being able to suit up on Saturdays.
Wood said that although Lanham has performed well in between the lines, his ability to lead his teammates has been the biggest development.
“He is extremely competitive,” Wood said. “I think the biggest deal was the leadership. I think I’m seeing even more of that than what I’ve seen on the field.”
Salisbury only has two remaining games on its schedule, both on the road. It travels to face off against NJAC opponents The College of New Jersey and William Paterson University before looking at a potential trip to the big dance.
The threat of the triple-option combined with the added threat of play-action allows the Gulls to attack teams in multiple different ways and keep the defense on its toes.
Offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Ryan Fleetwood said having this added versatility is key heading into the postseason.
“As you get into the playoffs and face tougher opponents, you’re not scoring 50 points a game, and you need to take advantage of every opportunity you can get,” Fleetwood said. “If you can put a couple scoring drives together, but then also get a couple cheap touchdowns by beating people over the top, that certainly helps you score as many points as you need to win.”
By NICK LEWIS
Featured photo: Sports Information Image