Throwing for more than 500 yards had never been done at Georgia Southern University. Having three backs go over 100 yards has happened more than a few times, but having three receivers go for over 100 yards a piece is something else that had never happened.
But that all changed Saturday when the Eagles actually topped 550 yards passing and three receivers each recorded more than 100 yards, as well, in the 45-38 victory over previously undefeated and 25th-ranked James Madison.
While these kind of passing numbers are new for Eagle players and fans, it is par for the course for Eagle offensive coordinator Bryan Ellis. In his three previous seasons at Western Kentucky Ellis was part of a record-breaking offense which saw WKU lead the nation with 433.7 passing yards per game in 2021. The Hilltoppers were also second in FBS with 44.2 points per game, and was second in total offense at 535.3 yards per game.
Currently the Eagles are second in passing offense in the nation and quarterback Kyle Vantrease has passed for the second number of yards individually. Ellis is pleased with the progress the team has made but thinks there is still room for improvement.
“I have said since I got here this is a bottom-line business,” said Ellis. “We have done a really nice job four times, and I think three times we haven’t. I am really proud of the way Kyle has played except for the turnover aspect of it which we still have to clean up, but I think overall offensively we have done a nice job so far.”
Last week the Eagles set a school record by throwing for 578 yards against No. 25 ranked James Madison. Throughout the offseason the Eagles stressed they wanted to have a balanced offensive attack, and while they only rushed for 12 yards Saturday Ellis said his goal for success isn’t as much about balance as it is taking what the defense is giving them and making adjustments.
“My only goal is to try and get the ball into the hands of our playmakers in space,” said Ellis. “I would have liked to have run for more than 12 yards last week, but we could tell we were having trouble running the football so we found another way to get players like Jalen White the ball by throwing it to him out of the backfield. I want to get Jalen 25 touches every week and I think he had 17 Saturday. Our best players have to touch the ball and that is our job to get them the ball and let them go to work and that is what we have done so far.”
Protecting the quarterback
The old adage of when you throw the ball three things can happen and two of them are bad, could have a third aspect that is bad and that is taking a sack. Last year the Eagle offensive line was much maligned, but this year they have done an amazing job of protecting Vantrease evident in allowing only two sacks in nearly 350 passing attempts.
“I think that is a testament to our players as well as the work by coach Richard Owens,” said Ellis. “We really feel like sacks are a team protection thing. We buy in that it is the offensive line, the tight ends, the backs and the wide outs getting open early and the quarterback not holding onto the ball. I think we have done a really nice job in that aspect and we still have five really tough games in which we need to continue to do that.”
One person Ellis failed to mention in helping to limit the sacks is himself. As the Eagle play-caller he knows the importance of drawing up plays that give the team the best chance to be successful.
“My goal is to get his first or second read open as many times as I can,” said Ellis. “When you do that, it limits sacks and limits pressures and quarterback hits. My job is to protect that kid as well and I know I need to protect the quarterback and keep him healthy.”
Vantrease appreciates all that Ellis does to have him prepared for success and feels it also helps that the two are so close off the field as well.
“Coach Ellis is an absolute stud,” said Vantrease. “We couldn’t do anything we do without him as he facilitates it all. As a quarterback you are an extension of the play caller so for me and him to have the relationship we do is very special.
“The thing I appreciate the most is how comfortable he is to bring his family around the players. He has two little kids who I absolutely love. His wife brings us food and they are a great family. The whole staff has a family atmosphere and that is something many people may not see, but that is another reason this team is so connected.”
Playing in the NFL
Vantrease has aspirations of someday playing in the NFL. He needs look no further than the New England Patriots for inspiration. Under Ellis’s tutelage Bailey Zappe set the FBS record for both passing yards and touchdowns. Zappe was selected by New England in the fourth round of the 2022 NFL draft and is 2-0 since taking over for the injured Mac Brown with the Patriots including throwing for over 300 yards in last week’s win over Cleveland.“If you have been around Bailey then the success he is having doesn’t shock you one bit,” said Ellis. “That kid is just full of confidence and when the game starts, he is just really impressive. It has been so cool to watch him have success and we have texted each other back and forth a few times as you try not to bother each other too much during the season. I am so proud of him but not one bit surprised by what he has done.”