The game is tied at 7. It’s the first play of the second quarter and it’s a 4th down for Georgia State in Georgia Southern territory. Dan Ellington finds Devin Gentry on a quick pass inside the hashes for the conversion. The Panthers hurry to the line and run their next play, and Ellington finds tight end Aubry Payne wide open for 18 yards down to the 22. Georgia State is in striking distance to take back the lead – and yet this is the closest the rest of the way they will be to a win for the remainder of the game. How did this rivalry game end so badly for the Panthers? This is Upon Further Review.
When a team loses by 28, it’s never just one thing that contributes to the loss. There was, however, a common theme to both Georgia State’s struggles and Georgia Southern’s successes this game: execution – or the lack thereof. Each offense took a drive to feel the game out and punted without converting a first down, and then each offense promptly marched down the field and found the end zone. But from Aubry Payne’s 18-yard catch on, Georgia Southern executed what they wanted to and Georgia State had very little success on either side of the ball doing so. Georgia State only moved backwards from that point on that drive – two incompletions and a sack (1 of 5 of the night by the GS defense) – and Brandon Wright missed a long 47-yard field goal to leave Georgia State empty-handed on the drive.
Taking possession off the back of forcing that missed field goal, Georgia Southern continued – as they had done – to attack the perimeter on offense. The Panthers defense had a lot of success against Army earlier in the year in containing the perimeter of the option attack. They would have no luck doing so on this night, however, and the likes of Shai Werts, Malik Murray and Wesley Kennedy III took advantage. On this occasion, the defense was able to stop Southern from finding the end zone, but a couple of 1st-down conversions had moved the Eagles into field goal range and Tyler Bass annihilated his 49-yard attempt through the uprights.
What had transpired to this point was two teams who had largely mirrored themselves, save that Georgia Southern’s field goal attempt was good. That would change from the teams’ next drives. Georgia State was forced into a three-and-out, with Ellington showing the heart of all heart running for the first down on 3rd down and coming up just a yard short. Southern proceeded to milk the clock as they slow-marched down the field, taking it into the end zone on a JD King 7-yard rush and taking a 17-7 lead into the break.
With Georgia Southern receiving to start the second half and able to take a three-possession lead with another touchdown, the Panthers could ill afford to slip up out of the break. But Kennedy III’s 48-yard opening kickoff return served as a bad omen of what was to come. The interior defense for the Panthers had been stout at the beginning of the game, and Hardrick Willis and Dontae Wilson played well throughout, but Georgia Southern’s success on the perimeter and in the passing game started opening up success in the inside as well. The Panther defense was grasping at straws against a Georgia Southern offensive line playing their best game of the season and Kennedy III finished off the drive that his long return started and it was 24-7 Eagles.
Georgia State went three-and-out on their next drive, as the constant combination of relentless pressure and good coverage from Georgia Southern continued, taking away Ellington’s main reads and leaving him scrambling for his life. The Eagles went for the home run play after taking back possession. Werts had Darion Anderson running free down the middle for an easy touchdown, but Anderson couldn’t bring the pass in and Southern was forced to punt.
Having had no offensive success since early in the 2nd quarter, when a 4th-and-short from the Georgia State 42 came up – down 17 with seven and a half minutes left in the 3rd quarter – Coach Elliott cast his die and went for it. Ellington was ruled a yard short of the line to gain on an outside run, Georgia Southern took over on downs, and again made quick work of a short field to make it a four-score game and to make the final result all but academic.
For Georgia State players and fans alike, this loss stings. At 7-5, though, a major goal of the team’s is still a success – the Panthers WILL be bowling in 2019. The elephant in the room is Dan Ellington’s injury. The team has gone 1-2 since it happened, beating handily the one team it should have and losing handily to the two fellow bowl teams they faced. To state the obvious, the team Georgia State faces in their bowl game will be more like Appalachian State and Georgia Southern than South Alabama, so the Panthers will have to regroup as they await their bowl selection and find answers to put a triumphant coda on this season.
2019 True Freshman Tracker
Games played (12): LS Seth Glausier*
Games played (11): ILB Jordan Veneziale*
Games played (7): WR Cadarrius Thompson*
Games played (4): QB Cornelious Brown, S Antavious Lane, LB Marcus Anderson
Games played (3): WR Jamari Thrash
Games played (2): DB Bryquice Brown, DL Thomas Gore, OL Luis Cristobal, QB Kierston Harvey
* = Redshirt exhausted