Upon Further Review: Appalachian State

Georgia State lines up on offense during Saturday’s loss to Appalachian State. Photo: Jordan Crawford for THERSdayNight.com

It was unfortunately Groundhog Day once again during Appalachian State week for Georgia State, as they suffered their eighth defeat in as many tries against the Mountaineers last Saturday. App State were on top at the break after an uneven first half for both teams, but it was only a 14-6 lead. The Panthers even got the first points of the second half courtesy of a Noel Ruiz field goal. But when Chase Brice found Corey Sutton open over the middle for a 79-yard touchdown pass, both teams’ fortunes went in opposite directions and the Mountaineers eventually cruised to a 45-16 win. What can Georgia State take away from this, their second heavy home defeat of 2021? This is Upon Further Review.

A Passing Fancy?

The first thing of note from this game for Georgia State was the return of former starting QB Quad Brown in the third series on offense. Darren Grainger was 1-for-3 for 4 yards with an interception on the first two drives and the offense never got going, so Brown was inserted with 6:39 left in the 1st quarter and stayed at the helm for the rest of the time this game was competitive. Quad had struggled mightily in the first two games of the season, leading to his benching in favor of Grainger ahead of the Charlotte game. While he had by no means a perfect game on Saturday, we saw considerable improvements from the Quad Brown who started against Army and UNC.

His final line of 16-for-31 for 171 yards, no touchdowns and 2 interceptions doesn’t light up the page. But, A, it’s a more-than-modest step up from his first two outings in 2021 and, B, there’s still some positives to take that go beyond the box score. Quad was able to get a rhythm in the short passing game, something that has escaped either Georgia State QB for large swathes of the season. Indeed, up against a stingy App State front seven, it was clear the game plan from the Panthers was to move down the field through the air in this way. It was against type for the 2021 GSU offense so far, but it worked for two quarters and outside the 20-yard-line (More on this later). 

Appalachian State’s defense made some good adjustments in the second half, throwing more pressure Quad’s way while also sitting on the quick passing routes that had yielded a lot of early success. The Georgia State offense needed something more in the second half to stay in this game, whether it be stronger offensive line play, more impact in the running game or a combination of the two. But we’ve seen that side of the offense have more success. If that can line up with an improved fundamental passing attack as the schedule gets less daunting, it could be the ticket to seeing the Panther Express getting back on the track.

Red Zone Woes

As alluded to above, the Georgia State offense was actually able to put drives together against App State and found their way into the red zone three times – twice in the first half and once early in the 3rd quarter. But these were the sequences at the end of those three drives, each of which ended in a field goal:

  • Red zone trip 1: 1st-and-goal at the App 6
    • 1st down: Jamyest Williams 1-yard run
    • 2nd down: Quad Brown rush for 0 yards
    • 3rd down: Batted-down pass intended for Sam Pinckney
  • Red zone trip 2: 1st-and-10 at the App 19
    • 1st down: Destin Coates 4-yard loss on a swing pass
    • 2nd down: Quad Brown to Robert Lewis for 4-yard reception
    • 3rd down: Quad Brown 5-yard run
  • Red zone trip 3: 1st-and-goal at App 9
    • 1st down: Quad Brown 1-yard loss
    • 2nd down: Quad Brown to Terrance Dixon for 5-yard reception
    • 3rd down: Quad Brown incomplete pass on rollout to his right

In real time, a touchdown on each drive would have meant a chance to tie the game. And taken together, if those were three touchdowns instead of three field goals, Georgia State could have taken the lead and then all bets would’ve been off. But in the most important area of the field, they came up short and it cost them dearly. After Ruiz’s third made kick of the day cut it to 14-9, the next play from scrimmage was Sutton’s big touchdown grab and Appalachian State had grabbed the momentum.

The Wheels Come Off

The Mountaineers were uninclined to give that momentum up and Georgia State were uninterested in taking it back. A Miller Gibbs touchdown catch made it a 31-9 App State lead on the final play of the 3rd quarter, and it felt like the Panthers let that score sink in on the sidelines at the interval because the next five minutes of game time could most charitably be described as discouraging.

The Georgia State defense did hold up well against an aggressive Appalachian State offense for much of the day, but bad angles in the defensive backfield haunted them on the big plays they did allow – and no more so than on App State’s first offensive play of the final quarter. A three-and-out for the Panthers immediately gave the steaming hot Mountaineers the ball back, and Christian Wells caught a quick screen on 1st down and burned past multiple out-of-position Panthers, tight-roped the sideline and took it all the way for an 80-yard touchdown in a porous display on offense. The Georgia State offense followed this with a failure to convert a 4th-and-1 from their own 34, setting up the App State in golden position to add on. Running it and converting in short distances has been one of the Panthers’ strengths and truly a part of their hard-nosed DNA under Shawn Elliott. Here, it let them down, and then the defense let in another score when no one could wrap up Anderson Castle on his way to a 22-yard TD. 

More than the big plays that let Appalachian State grab ahold of the game, Coach Elliott is going to be most disappointed that his team let the game get completely out of hand in the manner of about 10 game minutes. It was Georgia State ball, down 24-9, with 4:53 left in the 3rd quarter. Castle’s touchdown run made it 45-9 App with 10:51 remaining in the game.

An important week awaits the team. If that end-of-game collapse defines the 2021 Georgia State Panthers, there’s not a lot of wins left on the schedule. But if they use it instead as a launching point to fight back from a tough 1-4 start and reset the mojo, the schedule opens up for them to get back to winning ways. It starts Saturday in Monroe.

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