Launch into Leadership

Panthers 2-4 at season’s halfway point

Photo Submitted by Georgia State Athletics

The Georgia State Panthers (2-4, 1-1) lost 37-20 to the Troy Trojans (5-1, 3-0) in their first road Sun Belt Conference game of the season and never had a shot at taking a lead. Explosive plays by Troy were too much to overcome for a Georgia State offense that failed to score a touchdown until the fourth quarter.

Troy quarterback Kaleb Barker gave Georgia State fits from the first play from scrimmage when he ran 75 yards to the 4-yard line. B.J. Smith punched it in the endzone to give the Trojans a 7-0 lead.

Georgia State began to put together a good looking drive in response, but Trojan Tyler Murray forced freshman Cornelius McCoy to fumble after a catch. Troy took over inside its own redzone, and Barker threw a 50-yard deep touchdown pass to Tray Eafford on the next possession. Heavy pressure was on Georgia State as it was down 14-0 less than five minutes into action.

The 14-point deficit only continued to grow for Georgia State as the game progressed.

“We kept fighting,” head coach Shawn Elliott said. “We took a lot of blows in the first half. The first two drives they had big-yardage plays and scored both drives. Then we take our first possession down to, what, the 12-yard line and we fumbled. That really took the wind out of our sails.”

TOO LITTLE TOO LATE

Georgia State played much better once Barker left the game early in the second quarter due to injury. The Panthers outscored the Trojans 17-16 after Barker sustained his injury.

The Panthers’ most impressive sequence was when they forced Troy to turn the ball over on downs after having first-and-goal from the 5-yard line in the second quarter. The Panthers ran shotgun in their own endzone on the next play, and quarterback Dan Ellington was tackled for a safety.

A 32-yard Brandon Wright field goal gave the Panthers their first points of the game right before Troy took a 23-3 lead into halftime.

“Our defense recovered a little bit late in the first half, and then we stopped them on four straight possessions,” Elliott said. “We had that goal-line stand and I thought we’d come out in the second half and have a chance to get back in it, but we couldn’t do anything offensively to start the half. We just ran out of time, but we certainly fought.”

Panther wide receiver Penny Hart logged 128 yards on six receptions, his first time exceeding 100 receiving yards this season. Ellington finished 20-36 for 272 yards with one touchdown.

“We’ve got to go regroup,” Elliott said. “We’ve played a lot of ballgames in a short amount of time. Maybe that was a little bit of it today, but Troy has a good football team. Coach Neal Brown does a great job and they’ve got some good players on that team. We’ll regroup, and this will be a much-needed break for us.”

Georgia State was 3-13 on third down on offense and allowed Troy to go 10-15 on third down on defense. The open date this upcoming Saturday gives Georgia State two weeks to practice and rest until it faces Arkansas State on Oct. 18 on ESPNU, its second straight nationally televised game.

WHAT TO THINK OF GSU?

The last close game Georgia State played in was its season opening 24-20 win over Kennesaw State. The average point differential of the Panthers’ last five games is 27.8.

Their lone win over that stretch was a 46-14 domination over ULM the week before facing Troy, but that same ULM team gave up 70 points to Ole Miss last week. ULM’s two wins came in 34-31 and 21-20 games over FCS opponent Southeastern and Southern Miss respectively. The ULM defense allows 41.7 points per game, so the Georgia State offense hasn’t performed well over a strong FBS defense yet this season.

The offense did its job, however, and set several schools records that game, such as most rushing yards (308) and longest run from scrimmage (82-yard touchdown by Seth Paige).

Elliott said in the ULM postgame press conference that a fast score, a defensive stop and another fast score changes a team’s mindset. The Panthers were on the good end of a quick start that game, and they were on the bad side of it against Troy.

Georgia State ranks 105th in the country in scoring defense by allowing 34.2 points per contest. They’ve also proven to be much better at slowing teams down in the second half.

Three underclassmen, Victor Heyward, Chris Bacon and Tyler Gore, intercepted passes in the last two games.

REQUIRED MINDSET FOR REST OF SEASON

The young Panthers have to keep a leveled headspace to improve upon their 2-4 record with six games remaining and keep their conference title hopes alive.

The tough-sledding for Georgia State is just getting started. Two of the Panthers’ next six opponents are Arkansas State (Oct. 18) and Appalachian State (Nov. 17), the two teams predicted to face each other in the Sun Belt Championship by conference.

Arkansas State lost its conference opener 28-21 to a Georgia Southern team that is 4-1 overall and 2-0 in conference. Georgia Southern is much better than expected, and its annual regular season closer will be another challenging game for the Panthers.

The large amount of young players the Panthers play is well-documented. Their success and shortcomings have played a role in each game so far, and it will continue to.

Coastal Carolina, Texas State and Louisiana are the other remaining opponents for Georgia State. Both the youth and veterans must have solid performances against them. Winning those three games and one against the teams playing at a higher echelon could be the recipe for Georgia State to finish bowl eligible at 6-6.

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