Defense folds in Western Michigan blowout

Updated 9/15/ 2019 at 5:05 PM

The Panthers will hope for a bit of amnesia to kick in next week, as the Western Michigan Broncos ran them out of Kalamazoo, Michigan on Saturday, winning 57-10.

The Broncos’ running backs LeVonte Bellamy and Sean Taylor made the difference. The pair ran for a combined 282 yards and five touchdowns in the first half alone, ultimately finishing with 330 yards. 

Georgia State’s defensive performance last weekend against Furman was worrying. Saturday’s performance was nothing short of abysmal. 

The Broncos needed only two plays to begin the first half firestorm. Bellamy went untouched, as he blew open a 60-yard run. He would have plenty more to say throughout the evening. 

Looking for an immediate response, the Panthers offense, which was on fire through the first two weeks of the season, answered with a 32-yard field goal from Brandon Wright. The team’s following drive was much of the same, as Dan Ellington marched his men into Western Michigan territory with a few big completions. A sack and holding penalty brought the drive to a frustrating halt, though.

The Broncos then continued their first quarter siege. A 61-yard touchdown scamper from Tyler pushed the lead to 17-3. The Broncos’ offensive line opened up huge holes throughout the contest, as they manhandled the Panthers’ defensive front line. 

Ellington gave the team a sliver of hope on the ensuing possession. The senior found Aubry Payne for a 20-yard score with 1:43 left in the first quarter. The 17-10 deficit would be short-lived, though.

Bellamy scored his second touchdown of the night on the next drive. The senior flashed his big play abilities, as he scored from 36 yards out to extend the lead to 24-10 at the end of the first quarter.

A few plays later, Bellamy scored again. The offensive line opened up another big hole and the senior took full advantage, as he turned on the afterburners and ran it home from 73-yards out. Soon after, Tyler scored his second of the contest and the Broncos were already in cruise control, as they showed the Panthers no mercy.

Jon Wassink even joined the first half party. The quarterback, who is not known for his running abilities, put on a clinic, juking out a pair of Georgia State defenders and scrambling into the endzone from 16-yards out to complete the team’s stellar first half.

Trailing 43-10, the Panthers needed a miracle in half number two, but it was not written in the stars. The Broncos kept their foot on the gas, quickly extending their lead to 57-10 at the 3:26 mark in the third quarter. 

When the storm finally died, the Panthers were royally defeated. Apart from Tra Barnett’s impressive 127-yard performance on the ground, there were no positives from the defeat.

The Panthers travel to Texas State next weekend, in what now seems to be a must-win game to open the Sun Belt Conference season.


What we learned 

If the Tennessee game was a step forward for the program, the Western Michigan game was a monumental step backward.

From the offensive struggles to the defensive no-show, the performance was more than worrying.


Reality check?

The Tennessee win was a program-changing afternoon. The Furman victory last weekend showed the team’s ability to grind out a victory. But Saturday’s defeat to Western Michigan all but negated the team’s progress.

The defense had a nightmare showing. Against Tennessee, it looked as though the unit had taken a big step forward over the summer. The performance against Western Michigan looked eerily similar to last season, however.

Shawn Elliott was disappointed with the performance.

“They were able to do about anything they wanted to us offensively. The inability to stop the run is the most obvious thing. It was a poor effort defensively. After we got behind, we were pressing offensively and couldn’t get anything going. We tried to come out and do something in the second half and just got further behind,” he said. 

The Broncos shredded Elliott’s men on the ground and through the air. Is this a reality check? Only time will tell.


Tra Barnett the lone bright spot

Nobody inside the Panthers’ locker room will be thinking of any positives, but Barnett’s performance was promising.

The senior has already had a strong start to his 2019 season and took things to a new level Saturday.

Barnett rushed for 127 yards on 19 carries. He did not find the endzone — something he managed in the first two games — but he broke the 100-yard threshold for the second time in his career. 


Team still on track for winning season

It is understandably difficult to keep a positive outlook after a blowout defeat, but if Elliott’s men can simply forget about the defeat and move on to Texas State, they are still positioned to finish with a winning record.

At this point of the season, most had the Panthers sitting at 1-2. The Tennessee win will also go a long way in determining the team’s Bowl Game eligibility.  


Texas State game now a must-win

The flight home from Kalamazoo could not have been easy. The team had a chance to give the Broncos a taste of their own medicine, coming off of last season’s defeat at Georgia State Stadium.

Unfortunately, it just wasn’t to be. The team will begin their Sun Belt Conference season on Sept. 21 against Texas State and need to recover. 

Texas State is 0-3. They will not want to go down without a fight in front of their home fans, but the Panthers only have one option: win at all costs.

Should the team fall in their Sun Belt opener, the season could quickly take a sour turn. On the other hand, a win would lay down a market of intent and give the team some much-needed momentum going into their homecoming game against Arkansas State — another formidable Sun Belt foe — on Oct. 5.  

We will see what the team is truly made of over these next couple of weeks.

“Very disappointing, very embarrassing defeat, to come out and play like that. A lot of humbled men in that locker room right now, and rightfully so. We’ll get ready for our conference start next week,” Elliott said.