STATESBORO -- Ryan Longoria is an accomplished receiver, and he has the credentials to prove it.
In two years at Fullerton College, he caught 86 passes, including 51 his sophomore year. But in his second season with Georgia Southern, he has a total of seven catches for 61 yards, including six for 54 this year.
So, why the dropoff?
“We ran a spread offense at Fullerton with hand signals and threw the ball a lot,” Longoria said. “Here it’s a little different.”
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When Longoria was finishing up at Fullerton and looking for a place to transfer, Georgia Southern became an attractive landing spot with the hiring of Willie Fritz to replace Jeff Monken, who had left for Army.
“They had a whole new coaching staff here,” Longoria said, “and they threw the ball a lot at Sam Houston.”
That hasn’t been the case at Georgia Southern, whose offense features running back Matt Breida and quarterback Kevin Ellison. Breida rushed for 1,485 yards last year, and with 589 this season, he has 2,089 yards for his career. Ellison, who ran for 1,084 yards last year, eclipsed the 2,000-yard career mark with 134 yards in the team’s win Saturday at Idaho.
But that strong running game could get tested at this week when the Eagles (3-1, 1-0 Sun Belt Conference) go for their fourth straight win against Louisiana-Monroe (1-2, 0-0) in Monroe, Louisiana.
The Warhawks’ two losses came at Georgia and Alabama. Despite going up against the two SEC powerhouses Louisiana-Monroe has the second best defense in the Sun Belt, giving up 332.7 yards per game, including 179.7 on the ground.
“This will be one of the best defenses we’ll face all year,” Fritz said. “They tackle well, they run to the ball well, and they’re not afraid to play you man coverage in the secondary. I’ve got a lot of respect for the coach Toddy Berry. I’ve known him for years, and his teams are always well prepared.”
The Warhawks held Alabama to 303 yards, including 153 rushing. The Crimson Tide entered the game averaging 512 yards per game.
Should the running game stall, Ellison and Longoria believe the Eagles have the ability to move the ball through the air despite the loss of leading receiver B.J. Johnson, who was lost for the season with an injury at Idaho. Johnson had surgery Monday and finished the year with eight catches for 133 yards.
“Losing B.J. will impact us,” Ellison said. “B.J. was the ringleader of our receivers, but we’ve got a good group in Montay (Crockett), Ryan, Myles (Campbell) and Derek (Keaton). They’re all physical guys, and they have great hands. I’ve got confidence that when we throw it to them they’ll catch it.
“We would like to throw it more, and I think we will later on in the season as people will pack the box. Idaho did that, and we missed on some opportunities.”
Ellison, who has 1,942 passing yards in his career, is 16-for-31 for 133 yards and one interception in the two games he has played after returning from a suspension. The Eagles have yet to register a touchdown passing. There has been little need for the Eagles to throw the ball with their running game averaging 358 yards per game.
One of the reasons the running game has been so effective is the blocking ability of those receivers who are itching to get the ball in their hands.
“It was a big adjustment for me,” Longoria said, “but I don’t see it as a hard thing to do. It’s all in technique and (wide receivers coach Michael) Barrett does a great job coaching us.
“We’ll get our opportunities to catch the football. We just have to be patient.”