During the 2014 season, there wasn’t a running statistic Georgia Southern didn’t dominate.
More than 380 rushing yards per game and 55 touchdowns via the ground game will be tough to duplicate in the Eagles’ encore Football Bowl Subdivision performance, but — with just
873 rushing yards gone from last season’s 4,573-yard output — it’s entirely possible that the ground game could be even better this time around.
“We lost a few guys who really helped last season, but we’re obviously happy with who we return,” GSU coach Willie Fritz said. “With the type of offense we run and the tempo we like to play at, we need those guys to play well again, and we’re also looking for new guys to step up.”
The reasons to fear the Georgia Southern rushing attack are seemingly endless.
The spread-option offense will begin with the ball in the hands of Kevin Ellison, now a junior and entering his second spring as the Eagles’ top option at quarterback. If Ellison decides to hand off or pitch, things only get faster.
Matt Breida will line up alongside Ellison in the backfield and will once again serve as the Eagles’ biggest home-run threat. Breida exploded in his sophomore campaign last season, tallying 1,495 yards and flashing 4.4 speed to leave defenders in the dust on a handful of long touchdown runs.
No one will be caught by surprise this season, but Breida doesn’t view that as a bad thing.
“I think that we showed everyone what we can do last season,” Breida said. “They know we’re coming, but that has caused us to keep up our intensity all through the offseason.”
Attempting to add some thunder to Breida’s lightning will be L.A. Ramsby. The sophomore began his GSU career as a quarterback, but stepped into a running-back slot when injuries piled up early last season. Ramsby amassed over 700 yards and — now sporting a few more pounds of muscle — seems happy in his newfound role.
That duo did more than enough to terrorize opposing defenses last season, but even more help appears to be on its way.
Sophomore Chaz Thornton didn’t see the field last season, but has been impressive while taking plenty of reps this spring. Last weekend, with Breida and Ramsby held out of action, Thornton provided some highlights while working in with the Eagles’ top offensive unit.
“It’s great to have another guy to compliment me and L.A.,” Breida said. “We compete in practice, but we’re a big family. Any guy who can make us better is going to be welcome in our offense.”
Of course, even all of the speed and power possessed by Eagle backs will require some open space to run through. Four starters are gone from the 2014 offensive line and — while none of the big guys will touch the ball — their efforts will be vital to the Eagles’ continued success on the ground.
“We can’t do anything without (the offensive line),” Ramsby said. “I know that there are a lot of new guys there, but I don’t think we’re feeling any pressure. (Offensive line coach Alex) Atkins does a great job and all of our linemen are getting after it.”
The Eagles will hold practice Friday before scrimmaging Saturday. The team will repeat its practice routine once more next week before concluding its spring session with the annual Blue-White game April 18 at Paulson Stadium.