Upon Further Review: #19 Louisiana
Inside Linebacker Blake Carroll (left, arm raised) acknowledges fans at the conclusion of the 2019 game versus Army. Carroll’s defensive performance in Saturday’s loss to #19 Louisiana (8 tackles, 2 passes defended) helped Georgia State combat against the Cajuns in the narrow OT loss. Photo: Jordan Crawford for THERSdayNight.com
There are no moral victories in sports, but the 2020 Georgia State football team should have turned a few heads in their season-opening overtime defeat at the hands of the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns. Although the Panthers could not pull off the upset, given the numerous questions surrounding the team and the abnormal offseason, there are plenty of positives to take away from Saturday’s game against the Cajuns.
The 2020 version of a Brad Glenn offense looks exactly the same as the 2019 Brad Glenn offense, and redshirt freshman QB Quad Brown did an admirable job in his first action as signal-caller for Georgia State. Brown did a good job of using his long frame and agility to extend plays with his legs, as well as using his mobility to move the pocket and find open receivers. Brown excelled at fitting the pigskin between tight windows and did a good job generally throwing the ball where only his receivers could reach it. Where Brown struggled the most Saturday was deep ball accuracy, forcing a few overthrows – one of which sailed past Sam Pickney’s hands for an interception – and staring down receivers, which allowed the Ragin’ Cajun defensive backs plenty of opportunities to make plays. In short, though, the moment didn’t look too big for Quad and there’s a lot to build on the rest of the season.
With Brown at the helm, the Panthers were able to continue right where a healthy Ellington left off in 2019. Their plan was to run, run and run some more. It didn’t matter if it was Brown, junior running back Destin Coates or freshman Marcus Carroll. And then after establishing the ground game early and often, the Panthers worked in some play action passes to catch the Cajuns defense cheating on the run. This plan hit pay dirt when tight end Roger Carter snuck out of the backfield on a simple wheel route for the 28-yard pitch-and-catch that put the Panthers up 14-0 in the second quarter.
The hallmark of a good defense is the ability to make plays when needed to – and while the Panthers did give up 15 chunk plays of 10 or more yards en route to surrendering 28 points in regulation, the defense forced two turnovers, had eight tackles for a loss and seven pass breakups. Normally, that is a recipe for a win. Louisiana deserves a lot of credit for being a good team and winning in the end, but the Panthers defense was one or two plays away from containing a very good Louisiana offense who were riding off the high of their upset in Ames a week prior.
The defense set the tone early. Louisiana failed to convert on each of their first six third down attempts, going three-and-out on each of their first two possessions. The Cajuns could not move the ball well until their fourth series – and even then, the defense dialed up a variety of pressure to confuse Louisiana quarterback Levi Lewis and force another Cajuns punt. The Panthers would swarm the Cajuns any time they reached the second level. And for most of the first half, the Panther defensive line held firm, stuffing the run and allowing defensive backs Chris Bacon and Antavious Lane room to make highlight reel tackles in the backfield.
The Cajuns did not find their footing against the Panther defense until 3:20 left in the first half, and it took a broken fourth-and-10 play to get there. In what would prove to be a game-defining moment, Lewis escaped a Panther blitz and found a bracketed Devon Pauley for 19 yards and a first down. Lewis would hit Chris Smith for an 18-yard score two plays later and it was a different game at 14-7. A Panther three-and-out next possession would give the Cajuns an opportunity to tie the game up before halftime, but Quavian White came up with a key interception deep in Georgia State territory to spoil the threat and preserve the lead heading to the break.
The second half was largely a different story for the Panthers on offense. While they converted the same percentage of third down plays as they did in the first half, the Panthers did not convert a single third down play on any drive outside of their two touchdown drives in the second half. Most of the Panthers’ struggles came on Brown’s sudden lack of touch and continued struggles with deep ball accuracy. Louisiana often loaded the box and did enough to slow the Panther running backs, daring Brown to beat them with his arm. For most of the half, he could not.
It would be easy to scapegoat the defense for giving up 21 points and allowing 171 yards on the ground in the second half, but the Panthers offense struggled and couldn’t stay on the field. Because of this, the defense was left to play over nine minutes in the third quarter and began to wear down as a result. Even still, they made plays and prevented the Cajuns from breaking the game wide open late. The defense even gifted Georgia State an opportunity to win the game, sacking Lewis on a botched fourth down play, giving the Panthers the ball on the Louisiana 46-yard line with 1:41 left in regulation. The Panthers would subsequently go three-and-out on rather conservatively called plays, and the two teams would play for overtime. In the end, the Panthers received the ball first, kicking a field goal in their only possession, and the defense could not keep the Cajuns out of the endzone in theirs.
The final line score looks much worse for the Panthers than the tape does. Yes, the 519 yards allowed makes for ugly reading, but the defense made a lot of plays against a very good Louisiana team. Quad’s stats weren’t the prettiest, but for a redshirt freshman starting in his first college football game, he looked incredibly poised. That should calm some fears about a drop in quarterback performance after Dan Ellington’s graduation. The Panthers have their work cut out for them before they head to Charlotte, but there are plenty of positives for them to take with them. If they find more consistency on offense and bring the same defensive intensity that they showed in the first half for a whole 60 minutes, this could be a very good Georgia State football team.