You could point to a number of times where the Panthers were a mere few points from victory or let one slip away over the last few years. One game that might still sting a bit is their visit to Jonesboro, Arkansas against the Arkansas State Red Wolves.
The Red Wolves would be the first to get on the board but the Panthers would answer with a 2-yard run by Demarcus Kirk. However, neither team would convert their extra point. The Red Wolves would take a 13-6 lead to close out the first quarter.
The second quarter was an entirely different story. The Panthers came to life and the Nick Arbuckle to Keith Rucker show would take over. Arbuckle hit Rucker on a 25-yard pass early in the second and again on their second drive with a 9-yard pass with 10 seconds remaining in the half. Chandon Sullivan snuck his own scoring sandwiched in between with a 25 yard interception.
The Panthers would take a 27-20 lead into the half
Early into the third quarter, both teams would strike for the only points in the third quarter. Arkansas State wide receiver Dijon Paschal would haul in 26-yard pass from quarterback Fredi Knighten to tie the game up. However, Marquan Greene would burn the Red Wolves home turf with a 100 yard kickoff return 14 seconds later.
The Panthers led the Red Wolves 34-27 heading into the fourth quarter. Then the 2015 Sun Belt champions would take over and dominate the remainder of the game. Fredi Knighten would lead the Red Wolves down the field for three more touchdowns before the clock reached zero.
The Red Wolves would go on to win 48-34
“Our kids will keep fighting and they’re getting better as we go, but at the same time, our expectation is to win,” Coach Trent Miles said. “We had every opportunity to win this football game, and we didn’t get it done. Of course, Arkansas State had something to do with that and give them credit.”
Arkansas State and Georgia State met three times prior to this season and much like the fourth quarter last year they dominated in almost every phase of the game except one – passing.
The Red Wolves are averaging 45 points per game against the Panthers and have an average margin of victory of at least 19 points. Even with the Panthers 100 yard advantage in the passing game, the Red Wolves still own a 79 yard advantage in total offense thanks mostly to plus 154 yards on the ground.
Over the last three seasons, the Red Wolves have averaged eight wins and went undefeated in Sun Belt conference play. So far this season, the Red Wolves are 3-4 with their only wins coming against “That Team Down South,” South Alabama and UL-Monroe.
Since taking the reins of the Red Wolves offense at Auburn the second week of the season, senior Red Wolves quarterback Justice Hansen has completed nearly 60 percent of his is passes for a total of 1324 yards. In his last four games against Utah State, Central Arkansas, Georgia Southern and South Alabama Hansen has only 3 interceptions.
“I was really proud of Justice to be willing to make the two throws he had to make in one-on-one coverage,” Head Coach Blake Anderson said following the win against the Eagles.
“Number one to see them and number two to throw them. Because he tried that earlier and threw them an interception. I know that has to be in the back of his mind. To have the presence and the confidence to make the throws when it counted. Those two one-on-one balls are right where they need to be where it’s us or nobody. That takes a lot for a guy. That’s why he’s our quarterback with the good and bad. Really proud of how they found a way to get that done.”
The Georgia State secondary will want to keep an eye on junior tight end Blake Mack, who has 27 receptions and 476 yards on the season. Surprisingly enough, he also has no touchdowns recorded this season. All six passing touchdowns have been evenly distributed to six different wide receivers. Carrying the bulk of the load on the ground is Red Wolves sophomore running back Warren Wand with 106 carries for 467 yards and 3 touchdowns.
Defensively, the Red Wolves are allowing Sun Belt opponents 15 points per game and an average of 319 total yards. Their rush defense held Georgia Southern to 162 yards on the ground when they are averaging 100 more so far this season. South Alabama and UL-Monroe were held to an average of 295 yards of offense including 117 on the ground.
The Panthers running game could never really get going this season and it is doubtful there will be much room to run against this defense. That is where the Georgia State passing game that is averaging 214 yards per game needs to come to the rescue against a secondary allowing 178 yards.
Some players on the defensive side of the ball are senior linebacker Xavier Woodson-Luster, who has accounted for 51 total tackles, and senior defensive lineman Chris Odom who has 6 sacks and 7 tackles for a loss for a total of 47 yards.
Arkansas State comes to the Georgia Dome ranked third in the conference behind Troy and Appalachian State. The Panthers will host a “blackout” for the Red Wolves Thursday evening at 7:30 p.m. and will air live on ESPNU.