• What: Troy (1-7, 1-3 in Sun Belt) at Georgia Southern (6-2, 5-0)
• Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. Thursday
• TV: ESPNU
• Radio: Georgia Southern Radio Network (102.1 FM, 105.5 FM)
• Online: gseagles.com.
Georgia Southern is averaging 45 points and 402 rushing yards per game this season.
Common sense says a team better have a stable of good runners to do that, and the Eagles (6-2 overall, 5-0 in the Sun Belt Conference) do — Matt Breida, Kevin Ellison and LA Ramsby have combined for 2,327 rushing yards and 27 touchdowns.
But more than talented skill players, a team better have a good offensive line. And on that front, GSU has been spectacular.
“They’ve been playing their butts off. They’re carrying us right now,” offensive coordinator Doug Ruse said. “Luckily, we’ve got some other offensive weapons too, but it all starts with those guys.”
Tell Garrett Frye, a left tackle and preseason All-Sun Belt selection, about the ridiculous rushing numbers, and he’ll chalk it up to business as usual. To Frye, the success comes from practicing against the Eagles’ run defense — the best statistically in the Sun Belt.
“I mean, it’s what we do,” Frye said. “We drill it every single day, day-in and day-out. We call them ‘E-D-Ds,’ everyday drills. Every day before practice, we go against the best run defense that I know of. That leads to a great rushing offense.”
The fact that there are five seniors — Frye, Hunter Lamar, Raymond Klugey, Trevor McBurnett and Logan Daves — has a lot to do with the team’s success. They’ve formed a tight bond on and off the field.
“We try not to live with skill players unless we have to. We like to stay within the unit,” Frye said. “It’s not that we’re segregated from the team, but we want to be our own unit, and talk about it and live it.”
Ruse and first-year head coach Willie Fritz inherited an O-line that had toughness and physicality ingrained by former coach Jeff Monken’s staff. While the triple-option offense this season is dramatically different from Monken’s version, the change was easy for the group.
“If you’re not having to coach effort, intensity and focus, that’s three quarters of the battle,” Ruse said. “The other stuff we can coach. That’s why it’s fun coaching those guys, you don’t have to coach effort. It’s their nature.”
The first-year coaching staff knew right away that, at the very least, the group looked like it would be pretty good.
“Doug and I were talking when we first got here and it was, ‘Well, they look the part.’ But that doesn’t always mean anything,” Fritz said. “Well, I’ll say it’s the best offensive line I’ve been around, but I haven’t coached at the (FBS) level. (Ruse) has, and he said the same thing.”
The team’s 613 rushing yards against Georgia State on Saturday were the most ever by a Fritz-coached team. The 402-yard average is jarring, even for Fritz.
“We thought before the season we were going to be able to run it,” Fritz said. “But, you know, 400 yards is a lot of yards. I’d have to look it up … but I know I’ve never gone over 600 (in a game). Going over 500 is difficult. Yeah, we’re proud of that. It’s how we’re winning.”
With all the success on the ground, Fritz is happy with the passing game, too. That portion of the scheme is much more complicated than what the Eagles did in the past, and pass protection on the line is a big part of it. The Eagles have attempted around 13 passes per game, and have been sacked only four times.
“You know, there were some games earlier in the season where they were playing man-to-man and we threw the ball,” Fritz said. “We maybe just ran for 250.”
Then he laughed.
“You know, ‘just.’ That’s a lot of yards too. We’re proud of it, but we don’t go into a game saying, ‘We’re going to rush for as many yards as we possibly can.’”