The First Quarter: Georgia State football

The panthers have been taking steps in the right direction so far this season.  PHOTO BY RALPH HERNANDEZ| THE SIGNAL
The panthers have been taking steps in the right direction so far this season.

Georgia State’s football team has made strides at the start of the 2014 season.

They have made close games a habit early in the season. With only two home losses, The Panthers have come by a total of 13 points.

Here’s a recap of the Panthers’ first quarter at-home games.

Week One vs. Abilene Christian, 38-37 Win

The Panthers opened the season in front of a national audience on ESPNU with a thrilling 38-37 victory over Abilene Christian after Wil Lutz’s 26-yard field goal at the Georgia Dome Aug. 27 which snapped their 16-game winless streak.

Georgia State was led by new quarterback Nick Arbuckle who passed for 413-yards and four touchdowns — two yards shy of breaking Drew Little’s school record for passing yards.

“I was really one yard short? I guess I’ll try for 415 the next game [chuckles],” Arbuckle said after the game. “But any time we can get a win, it’s nice.”

The game-winning field goal was set up by a late drive led by Arbuckle and the offense where Arbuckle connected on two long, fourth-down conversions to keep the Panthers alive. He then scrambled for a late first down to put his team in field goal range for Lutz.

“It’s a great day for anyone involved with Georgia State,” Head Coach Trent Miles said after the game. “Our kids fought through a lot of adversity. They believed in the fact that we were going to win the game no matter what.”

Leading the rushing attack was freshman running back Krysten Hammon who carried the ball 13 times for 78-yards. Kyler Neal added 47 yards on eight carries while Hammond fought a thigh contusion before later returning.

The Panthers were led in receiving by Lynquez Blair who caught eight passes for 118 yards and one touchdown.

The momentum of the game swung on a late interception by junior linebacker Joseph Peterson as the Panthers trailed 30-21. Peterson led the Panthers in tackles during the game with 11 total and an interception.

The Panthers found they had a resilient group of players to confront Abilene Christian in the season opener.

Week Two vs. New Mexico State, 37-34 Loss

The Panthers’ resiliency would be put to the test in week two with the 34-31 loss against the New Mexico State Aggies Sept. 6.

Georgia State got off to a fast start against New Mexico State, racing out to an early lead behind a big play by Arbuckle to Donovan Harden, who hooked up on a 68 yard touchdown on the first drive of the game.

Hammond found the endzone early in the second quarter with an eight yard plunge for a touchdown, putting the Panthers up by 17 after an earlier Lutz field goal.

The Panthers would be outscored 34-14 over the remaining moments in the game suffering a 34-31 loss.

Arbuckle threw for 294-yards and one touchdown but also had two interceptions. The Panthers were led in rushing by Hammond who carried the ball a career high 25 times for 127-yards with two touchdowns — the first two of his Georgia State career. Avery Sweeting led the team in receiving with eight receptions for 94-yards.

After the game, Miles said he felt the team “self-destructed.” Hammond told the media that he thought the team got comfortable by feeling they had the game won early.

Week Three vs. Air Force, 48-38 Loss

On Sept. 13, the team took another tough home loss in a shootout with the Air Force Academy Falcons ending with 48-38 — the highest scoring game in program history.

The Panthers were down three players due to suspensions. Wide reciever Avery Sweeting and Linebacker Bryan Williams received suspensions from Miles for a spring semester violation. Hammond was suspended the week of the match-up against the Falcons for what was described as “conduct detrimental to the team.”

Nick Arbuckle tied the school record for passing yards with 414, naming him Sun Belt Conference Player of the Week for three weeks in a row.

Neal started in the place of Hammond. He ran for 80-yards on 10 carries and scored his first career touchdown. Neal was complemented by Duvall Smith who carried the ball six times for 53-yards.

Joel Ruiz led the Panthers in receiving with six receptions for 95-yards. Blair added five catches and two touchdowns.

The Falcons rolled up a total of 539-yard for the game, which included 315 from the rushing attack.

The Panthers had to try and claw back from an early deficit as they fell behind 31-10 at halftime. Georgia State showed its grit, roaring back into the game and outscoring the falcons 28-14 in the second half, coming up just short of a major comeback.

Statistical Leaders

Arbuckle leads the aerial attack with 1,121 yards passing (which ranks fourth in college football) and seven touchdown passes.

Hammond leads the team in rushing with 205-yards and a pair of touchdowns.

Sophomore receiver Robert Davis has 16 receptions for 202-yards to lead all Georgia State receivers.

Going forward this season

The talent pool the Panthers have assembled this season looks to be teeming throughout the roster. In the second season of the Trent Miles era, the seeds appear to be planted for a formidable football team.

Georgia State’s players have found out a lot about themselves these first few weeks of the 2014 season.

“We have a lot more going on as a team and we’re together a lot more. Hanging out, mixing groups,” sophomore tight end Keith Rucker said of the new team chemistry.

In-game competition can teach teams about themselves and the Panthers have the luxury of having played two close competitive football games against two quality opponents, despite ending up in the loss column. They have also made their share of mistakes.