Sparky Notes: Zappe on track to shatter records, offensive line deserves more credit

Sparky Notes is football reporter Wyatt Sparkman’s weekly column that serves to dissect WKU Football’s most recent game.


Marshall C. Canupp

Hilltoppers’ graduate student Bailey Zappe (4) shares a moment with his father during their senior day celebration.

Wyatt Sparkman, Football reporter

WKU’s Bailey Zappe is putting together a season for the ages, reminiscent of another all-time great year. The Hilltoppers’ offensive line has done an immaculate job protecting its signal-caller during his historic campaign, something that deserves more attention.

Zappe vs Joe Burrow’s 2019 season

The Hilltoppers graduate quarterback has put his name on a national platform this season, throwing for 4,640 yards and 48 touchdowns. Zappe has thrown for 421.8 yards per game and 4.4 touchdowns per game. 

The Victoria, Texas, native is on pace to break WKU’s single-season passing yards and touchdowns records on Saturday against Marshall. Zappe isn’t just on his way to rewriting WKU’s history books, but he’s on pace to break NCAA records as well. 

Back in 2019, former LSU quarterback Joe Burrow threw for 60 touchdowns and Texas Tech’s B.J. Symons threw for 5,833 yards, both setting NCAA records. If WKU defeats Marshall to earn a spot in the Conference USA title game, Zappe is then on pace to reach 5,905 yards and 61 touchdowns, breaking both records in just one year of FBS football. 

Burrow arguably had the greatest season by a quarterback in college football history, going 15-0, winning the Heisman Trophy and a National Championship and going first overall in the 2020 NFL Draft. Zappe might not get those accolades, but he is quietly putting together what could be the best statistical season ever. 

Zappe has only had one game out of 11 this season with less than 350 yards passing compared to five in 15 games for Burrow. Burrow does beat Zappe in a couple of categories, though. He threw for 10.8 yards per attempt compared to Zappe’s 8.7 mark while sporting a better completion percentage. Turnovers have been an issue for WKU’s gunslinger, throwing nine interceptions to Burrows’ six. 

Perhaps the greatest achievement of Zappe’s tenure is turning a bottom-10 total offense and bottom-20 passing offense into the nation’s most electric scoring attack and a top-three offense in total. Burrow had an above-average offense to work with plus three future first round picks, making Zappe’s work that much more impressive. 

All this being said, Zappe still isn’t in the Heisman conversation on the national stage. The frontrunners of the award are Alabama quarterback Bryce Young and Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud. Zappe has 1,000 more yards and 10 more touchdowns than both of them.

He was also passed over as a finalist for the Davey O’Brien Award, which is given to the best quarterback in college football. Zappe’s name should be in the Heisman conversation in order to have his historic season recognized. 

Front five appreciation 

The Hilltoppers’ offensive line has been dominant all season, only giving up 12 sacks. To put that in perspective, WKU has thrown the second-most passes in the nation this season – the unit has been working overtime all year and has still managed to be great. WKU is the only program in the top-10 in pass attempts with less than 20 surrendered sacks. 

WKU has had just one game where it gave up two or more sacks in its last seven games. This offensive line will be going up against a Marshall defense that is tied for fifth in sacks this year with 37. In this winner-take-all fight, the offensive line needs another stellar performance to get WKU into its first C-USA Championship since 2016. 

Football reporter Wyatt Sparkman can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @wyattsparkman3.