Injuries and new talent bring freshmen to frontline

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Injuries and attrition have forced the Panthers to play younger players all around the field. After struggling to start, the young football players are beginning to learn and make major impacts.

Coming into this season, the Georgia State football team knew that it would put a very young team onto the field, but they also had some veterans returning to help shoulder the load.

During a season, injuries happen and are entirely unavoidable. But when they occur, it requires a next-man-up mentality.

After a rash of injuries in the secondary, the Panthers were forced to rush several young players into action, some of whom got their first career starts against Memphis. Since that game, the defense has given up an average of 214 passing yards and two touchdowns per game.

“Early on we went through some rough patches, but I think over the last few games they’ve started to grow a lot,” defensive coordinator Nate Fuqua said. “I think the game has slowed down a lot for them, but there are still things that come up each week that we haven’t seen that we’ve got to do a great job of trying to get them those looks in practice. But overall I think they’re progressing.”

There have been bumps in the road, and they have given up four big pass plays of 30 yards or more. Additionally, opposing quarterbacks are completing 70 percent of their passes.

True freshmen Quavian White and Jacorey Crawford are now starting in the secondary along with redshirt freshman Jaylon Jones. White and Jones each have had an interception this season. Redshirt junior Remy Lazarus started at free safety for the Panthers this year and had played before, but this is his first year as a full-time starter. Early on in the season, the Panthers were forced to play with heavy inexperience in the secondary, but it has started to help them progress faster than they thought.

“As a whole, the young secondary has really stood out. Quay White has had some good games for us. Tyler Gore [also had good games],” Fuqua said. “But as a whole what Remy Lazarus has been able to do as a first-year starter as our free safety [has stood out].”

Things have been a bit similar on the offensive side of the ball as well. Redshirt freshman Jalen Jackson started at right tackle for the Panthers. In that game the offensive line gave up three sacks and several quarterback hurries.

Coming into the season, one of the big position battles was at the running back position with veterans Demarcus Kirk and Tra Barnett returning, but talented freshmen Destin Coates and Seth Paige have made huge contributions and now get plenty of playing time.

The Panthers primarily play running back by committee with several backs getting snaps during the game. So far this season, Paige is the team’s second leading rusher behind quarterback Dan Ellington.

Paige’s 227 net yards leads the running backs, and he is also averaging 7.1 yards per carry with three touchdowns. He also made the longest run in school history with an explosive 82-yard touchdown against the University of Louisiana Monroe.

Coates has made a big impact as well by carrying the ball 32 times for a net total of 137 yards. Freshman Cornelius McCoy is second on the team in receiving with 188 yards, with an 11.1 yards per catch average, and first-year wideout Christian Owens leads the team with two touchdown receptions.

There is no doubt that first and second-year players are making their stamp on this team. The Panthers have a solid mix of veterans as well, which certainly helps. However, the remaining schedule for the Panthers is extremely tough so they will soon be put to the test.