Upon Further Review: East Carolina
Safety Antavious Lane celebrates in the end zone immediately following a late-game pick six against East Carolina on Saturday. Lane had another banner day as a central element of the Panthers defense, contributing 5 tackles, 2 passes defended and 1 pick six. Photo credit: Daniel Wilson for Georgia State Athletics
Historically, Upon Further Review has been a space to armchair quarterback the previous week’s GSU game and distill the previous game down to one or two plays while providing a recap. Sometimes the Panthers have a hard-fought close game that slips away in overtime, or they put it all together and completely thrash their opponent. The game against the East Carolina Pirates falls in the latter category – one that the final score doesn’t fully reflect. The game ended 49-29 Panthers, but watching the film tells a completely different story.
There is no way to tell the story of Saturday’s game without starting with the more dominant side of the ball: the Panthers’ defense. Yes, in a world where the offense put up 42 points, the defense was the star that shined brightest. Not enough can be said about the performance of the Panthers’ defense. The defensive line was unforgiving and relentless in its pressure on Pirates quarterback Holten Ahlers. The linebackers assisted in stopping the run, holding the Pirates to 50 yards on the ground for the afternoon. The defensive backs showcased their talent and experience and brought in two of the Panthers’ three interceptions on the afternoon, one of which safety Ant Lane took to the house for a touchdown. The defense is also off the hook for the 29 Pirates points, as the unit only surrendered nine points on three field goals scattered in the second and third quarter. Nate Fuqua’s squad played a great game all around.
Coming into the 2020 season, there were many questions surrounding the Georgia State offense. And through two games, most, if not all, of them should be put to bed. Georgia State QB Quad Brown showcased all of his arm talent on Saturday and deserves a lot of praise for how he responded after his first pass of the game was thrown for a pick-6. Many young quarterbacks would have been rattled after that, but Quad regained his composure and led the Panthers on three consecutive touchdown drives to finish out the first quarter. Destin Coates provided his usual burst from the backfield and Brad Glenn called on wide receiver Terrance Dixon to add an additional layer to the Panthers rushing attack. While Coates did fumble twice and lost one of them, the Panthers’ ground game was as potent as ever and provided a very balanced approach to the Panthers offense – 238 passing yards to 247 rushing yards – that allowed them to coast to victory.
If there is a side of the ball that is deserving of some ire, that would be the Panthers’ punt team and field goal defense. Both of these specific special teams groups gave up touchdowns on plays that should not have taken place and helped make the score look much closer than it otherwise would. The blocked punt was especially bad, as it was a case where the Panthers failed to have an adequate amount of blockers in protection once the ball was snapped. Punter Michael Hayes took one too many steps after fielding a high snap, and ECU took advantage of the Panthers’ mistake. The Georgia State field goal unit was also caught flat-footed at the end of the previous ECU drive when the holder, wide receiver Tyler Snead, took the snap and burst around the edge, scoring on a 31-yard fake field goal TD run. While Snead is listed as a holder for ECU on their depth chart, given the situation (They were down 42-16 with under 11 minutes to go), being so caught off-guard by a fake when a field goal wouldn’t have changed the complexion of the game is a mistake that luckily didn’t cost the Panthers. These are areas that will need to be cleaned up if the Panthers intend to take a good football team and make them great.
There are three highlights that really paint the picture of how effective the Panthers were on both sides of the ball Saturday. The first took place near the end of the first quarter.
The Panthers isolated WR Sam Pinckney on the near sideline by himself, creating a 1-on-1 matchup. Quad sees this and unleashes arguably his best pass of the day from the opposite hashmark directly to a falling Pinckney for an easy 42-yard catch. It was Pinckney’s 4th catch of the quarter.
While Quad already threw a long touchdown Pinckney’s way, this was a better – and further – throw. Quad asked his receiver to just make a play on the ball and Pinckney delivered. That set up an easy Tucker Gregg touchdown a few plays later in the 2nd quarter.
Next, there are two defensive plays that future offensive coordinators are going to need to watch when scouting the Panthers. While Qua White is the one that registered the stats for these plays, it was a group effort that started with the tenacious defensive line forcing Ahlers out of the pocket, allowing White to come up with big plays.
Late in the second quarter, ECU put up their best offensive series of the game – and on third-and-five, Ahlers and company were looking to find the endzone to cut the lead down to 17 just before the half.
Ahlers initially looked to step into the pocket, but after it broke down, he attempted to pick up the first down on the ground. White saw this and used his speed to tackle Ahlers behind the line of scrimmage, possibly saving a touchdown.
The instincts and athleticism of the Panthers’ secondary were on display time after time throughout the afternoon, and it helped keep Ahlers and his receivers off balance even from clean pockets.
Lastly, the White interception in the third quarter that came off very simple pressure from the Panthers.
Up front, the Panthers rushed only three players, but that didn’t stop nose guard Akeem Smith from blowing past his blockers and forcing Ahlers out of the pocket and to his right.
Frantically looking for a receiver to throw to, Ahlers overthrew his man into the waiting arms of CB White for his second interception of the season, and third interception on the afternoon for the Georgia State defense.
Although this only shows three plays, they begin to paint the picture of how the Panthers played on Saturday. It wasn’t a perfect game, and the Panthers’ offense has developed a bit of a turnover problem, but they overcame that Saturday and proved they were the better team against the Pirates. The score could have easily ended up in the 50s or 60s, but a more reserved second half approach took the wind out of the offensive sails for GSU. All in all, it was a dominant Panther win that should serve as a warning to the Sun Belt. Dan Ellington and Tra Barnett might be gone, but the offensive philosophy at Georgia State isn’t. As for the defense, the jury is still out on how good this unit can be – but if you sleep on it, do so at your own risk.