The Panthers continue to struggle on the road

Photo Courtesy of Georgia State Athletics Department Archives

From the start, the Panthers’ football season has been a roller coaster ride. With inconsistency from both the offensive and defensive units, Georgia State has a 2-5 record this year. Even more, the team has consistently struggled to win on the road.

The Panthers lost their first four road games against North Carolina State, Memphis, Troy and Arkansas State by an average of 26 points. During their road losses, the Panthers had their fair share of injuries. For example, junior cornerback, Cedric Stone is out for the season with a knee injury. Stone’s injury and previous starting cornerback Jerome Smith’s departure give the team’s secondary a new look with a majority of freshmen starting.

When head coach Shawn Elliott addressed the youth of the secondary in a press conference after the Memphis game, he said they need to grow up fast. Senior linebacker Ed Curney believes that the Panthers’ inexperienced defense can steadily improve by keeping their heads high.

“As long as they stay confident, they will be okay,” Curney said of the young secondary. “It is okay to fail, you are not going to be the best out there all the time.”

With just five games remaining, the Panthers look to win the rest of the season and potentially head to their third bowl game in Georgia State history. That’s now a tall task, but Curney believes in his team and is quite confident about the last games of the season.

“A lot of those [previous] games, we beat ourselves,” Curney said. “If we take every game step by step, play by play and go 1-0 every week, I feel like we have a great opportunity to win them all.”

Their open date could have helped the team regroup and give the young players a clearer vision of the games. It also could’ve helped the offense get more acclimated with one another and find their identity as a unit. The offense improved, but the defense was exposed again.

The Panthers’ offense started slow but got hot in the second half against Arkansas State on Thursday. They had a combined 422 yards in the game with 250 passing and 172 rushing. However, two fumbles in the game harmed their chances of winning the game.

“We are not playing good on the road … On the road we just were not clicking fast enough like we needed to,” junior quarterback Dan Ellington said.

The offense for the Panthers has also had its ups and downs during the season after their nail-biting first win against the Kennesaw Owls. After that win, the offense has experienced troubles, especially with turnovers. Fumbles have hurt the Panthers, and they are holding them back from winning.

The Panthers are averaging 21 points and 367.8 yards of total offense per game on the road. However, at home they are averaging 28.3 points with about 381.7 total yards of offense. While there is not a huge gap in yardage, the struggles are costing them games on the road.

Also, the run game for the Panthers stands out completely because of how versatile it can be. Although Ellington has 1,224 passing yards and five touchdowns thrown, the rushing attack features a total of four primary ball carriers: Dan Ellington, Destin Coates, Tra Barnett and Seth Paige.

“The running game is really important to what we do and with getting the run game established, it opens up a lot for us especially in the passing game,” Ellington said.

During the first three road losses this season, the Panthers averaged 149 yards per game on the ground.

The Panthers have been overmatched in nearly every game so far, but Ellington and Curney believe that the team can win every game the rest of the way.

“I think we were just one play away from [winning] each game these past games,” Ellington said. “These last games are really important to get into a bowl and to get to the Sun Belt championship.”

The offense and defense will have to remain consistent for any possibility to win out the schedule, get to the Sun Belt Championship and into a bowl game. The Panthers are in a bad position, and they can’t afford to come up short anymore.

“I like the way they kept fighting to the last doggone snap, but we’ve got to get better in a lot of areas,” Elliott said in a press conference after the team lost 51-35 to Arkansas State. “I want to see us come out and practice well. I want to think about what we’ve got to do in practice and our preparation to get better.”

Georgia State has back-to-back road games against Louisiana on Nov. 10 and Appalachian State on Nov. 17. Louisiana and Appalachian State rank second and fifth respectively in rushing in the Sun Belt Conference. Louisiana is also third in total offense and Appalachian State is sixth.

After those two road games, the Panthers return to the Georgia State Stadium where they will play their last regular season game against the Georgia Southern Eagles. The Panthers have won the previous three games against the Eagles including two of them in Statesboro.

Although they are ranked last in defense in the Sun Belt Conference, the Panthers want to get things going as they try to win out every game by defending the pass game and giving up big plays with young guys in the secondary.

The offense looks to keep the fumbles at a minimum and control their own destiny by keeping the plays alive after huge gains in its passing game. They also want to keep the rushing game as consistent as possible and control the tempo of the game with their versatile running game.

With five games left on their schedule, the 2-5 Panthers are on the outside looking in to reaching bowl eligibility with two more road games and a winless record away from Georgia State Stadium.