Following successful road trips to Idaho and Monroe, Louisiana, the Georgia Southern Eagles are cashing in their frequent-flyer miles for a 2-0 start to their Sun Belt Conference schedule and a much-deserved bye week.
The Eagles (4-1, 2-0) stubbed their toe hard in their season opener against West Virginia, but since then have looked like the same Georgia Southern that ran roughshod over the Sun Belt last season. During the Eagles’ current four-game winning streak, including Saturday’s 51-31 win over Louisiana-Monroe, they have averaged 46.5 points and 423 rushing yards per contest.
That sort of explosiveness was expected against overmatched opponents like The Citadel and Idaho, but the Eagles’ overpowering offense continued to roll last week against a ULM team thought to have one of the stingiest defenses in the conference.
“It’s good to get the win — especially on the road — but there were times where we played a sloppy game,” GSU coach Willie Fritz said. “We had too many penalties and there were some spots where we could have executed better. If we had cleaned that up, we might have scored 60.”
Regardless of additional points and yards that may have been left on the field last week, Georgia Southern seems comfortable in its role as the defending conference champions. The Eagles will get this week to catch their breath before resuming their quest for a second consecutive Sun Belt title and the first bowl game in program history.
A work in progress
Despite an offseason commitment to throwing the ball more this season, the Eagles continue to do the vast majority of their damage on the ground.
In the ULM game, Kevin Ellison connected on just three of his nine passes for 48 yards, while Favian Upshaw misfired on his only attempt. Ellison also threw an interception that was returned 56 yards for a Warhawk touchdown.
“We missed some opportunities in the passing game,” Fritz said. “We had about four drops, including a critical one on fourth down. We had an open man in the end zone that we didn’t get the ball to. We might have had 100 yards worth of catches that we left on the field.”
Georgia Southern ranks 127th nationally out of 128 teams in both total passing yards (312) and yards per pass attempts (5.0).
Bumps and bruises
No team is exempt from injuries, and Georgia Southern has already learned that lesson in 2015.
Senior defensive lineman Jonathan Battle was lost for the season during fall camp, and leading receiver B.J. Johnson will miss all remaining games after suffering an injury at Idaho.
But in the grand scheme of things, the Eagles are mostly healthy. Other players have limped off of the field at times, but have been able to get right back into the action. Now that a bye week is finally at hand, the Eagles hope that some of the bumps and bruises will have time to heal up before the grind of the conference schedule resumes.
“Part of being a college football player is knowing the difference between discomfort and injury,” Fritz said. “We aren’t playing guys who are injured, but for the guys with bumps and bruises, it’s important for them to get treatment. This week will hopefully help with that for quite a few guys.”
Topping the charts
While the passing game is still trying to find its way, there are other categories in which the Eagles enjoy being at the top of national standings.
The Eagles’ 1,887 yards on the ground are tops in the country, as are its 22 rushing touchdowns.
Individually, running back Matt Breida is the nation’s fourth-leading rusher with 738 yards. Breida’s 19-carry, 149-yard performance at ULM actually hurt his average yards per carry for the season (10.1), but he still holds a comfortable national lead.