Georgia State struggled from the opening kick to the final QB kneel in their season-opening 43-10 drubbing at the hands of Army. Far from being a confidence-building win against a good Army team to start 2021, this result has the potential to zap the intrigue right out of Georgia State’s season, and it asks some very real questions about what could have gone wrong to bring about this unsatisfactory performance. For the first time in 2021, this is Upon Further Review.
Mistakes Were Made
To be frank, Georgia State’s offense had about as messy and disjointed a performance as they have ever done under head coach Shawn Elliott. In just the first half, the unforced errors included:
- A lost fumble on a QB/RB exchange on the fourth play of the game
- Another near-disaster when RB Destin Coates and TE Roger Carter motioned the same way and ran into each other in the backfield on a handoff
- Two holding penalties on back-to-back punts negating two muffed punt recoveries
- Multiple underthrows and overthrows of open receivers by QB Quad Brown
- A fair catch of a punt by Terrance Dixon at his own 7-yard-line instead of letting the punt go, very possibly for a touchback
- On the next play, a miscommunication between Brown and WR Cornelius McCoy leading to an Army interception inside the Georgia State 10-yard-line
These mistakes in total would probably be enough to sink a team over 60 minutes. All of this happened in the game’s first two quarters and it led to a lopsided 27-7 halftime lead for Army. The interception – and the ensuing touchdown Army scored with 0 seconds left on the clock in the 2nd quarter – was particularly back-breaking because for all that had gone wrong for the Panthers, they could have headed to the locker room down just 14. And after scoring on their previous possession and forcing Army’s first punt of the afternoon, Georgia State might have even felt they held just a smidge of momentum. But it wasn’t to be, and that one final mistake in the first half proved to be lethal.
Mistakes Were NOT Made
On the other side of things, Army was clinical and played a clean game. Their flexbone offense wasn’t as explosive as they’ve shown to be in the past (More on this later), but they kept on schedule. And no matter who was in at QB – Tyhier Tyler, Christian Anderson or Jemel Jones – they made smart plays and avoided costly mistakes.
The few times that Army opened the door even faintly, Georgia State couldn’t capitalize. As mentioned previously, the two muffed punts Army had on consecutive plays were wiped out by Panther penalties. And then the first play of the following drive, a false start penalty pushed the Black Knights back to 1st-and-15. The offense that’s designed to stay in manageable downs and distances was behind the 8-ball to start this pivotal drive. But Tyler picked up 9 yards on a QB run and it was 2nd-and-6 like that – back on schedule as if there had never been a penalty. Army found the end zone at the end of that drive to take a 14-0 lead and they would never lead by less than double digits the rest of the game.
Digging For Positives
The 43 points allowed is the standout number from the defensive performance, but it doesn’t really tell the whole story. It’s true that the Georgia State defense was not impactful enough to make their own luck, create turnovers or completely stuff the Army offense, but the mistakes that piled up on the offensive side of the ball gave them a near-impossible task up against the grinding Army triple-option attack. And they still managed as well as anyone has against the Army offense. The Black Knights managed 258 yards rushing at an average of 3.9 yards per carry – their largest carry of the day was 16 yards. 258 yards on the ground would be a huge win for most offenses in college football, but Army isn’t most offenses. Both of those numbers are well off the prolific averages they’ve compiled running the football over the last five seasons under coach Jeff Monken. The Panthers’ defense was simply put in too many tough situations and left on the field to defend too long, and Army took full advantage. The Black Knights started three drives in Georgia State territory and found the end zone on all of them and they held onto the ball for 42 minutes, 7 seconds of the game.
And in that all-important third phase of the game, Georgia State recovered two muffed punts and sophomore cornerback Bryquice Brown blocked an extra point. Yes, both muffed punts were called back for penalties and the one point off the board from that missed XP didn’t factor into an eventual 33-point loss, but you could still see the potential for big-time plays on special teams. And as the Panthers clean up the rest of their game, those can stack up and be the difference between wins and losses.
For better or for worse, Georgia State has been here before – and very recently, at that. After a similarly deflating 51-0 loss at the hands of Coastal Carolina last October, this was an excerpt of our Upon Further Review that week:
“..the fact is, Georgia State got Coastal’s best shot and they couldn’t come close to matching it in any phase of the game. The only silver lining here is that it counts the same as the Panthers’ 3-point loss to Louisiana when all’s said and done. This is just one game on the 2020 schedule and the Panthers have four more to make their season what they want it to be. But this is the type of loss that can haunt a team and creep into their psyche for weeks to come. A seemingly favorable matchup with winless ULM is on the horizon, but the Warhawks are the last of Georgia State’s worries. They’ve got to get their house in order or risk seeing their season spiral as fast as you can say ‘51-0.’”Upon Further Review, Coastal 2020
A lot of this rings true once again for putting this Army disappointment in context. There’s going to be a time and place to discuss the frustrating nature of Georgia State laying an absolute egg at least once a season even when the end of the year sees a bowl berth. But for now, it’s important to remember that after the Coastal loss, the Panthers won four of five to finish 2020 on a high note and played their best football of the season. There’s two sides of the equation for this Georgia State team. Yes, the rest of September remains a tough schedule, tougher than the stretch of games Georgia State finished on in 2020. But this Coastal loss happened halfway through the year in 2020 – there’s still 11 games, at least, on the cards for the Panthers in 2021. Expectations were not met against Army, but Georgia State still has every opportunity to show that this game was not the measure of who they are. It starts with a better performance on Saturday in Chapel Hill.