WR Sam Pinckney smiles at a fan after a Georgia State home game during the 2019 Season. Pinckney had a record setting day vs South Alabama catching 5 passes for 176 yards in the win. Photo: Jordan Crawford for THERSdayNight.com
In his time at Georgia State, head coach Shawn Elliott has made “Start fast, finish strong” a mantra for how he wants this team to build their winning culture. It’s an expression of coachspeak that almost every college football coach has a version of, but the Panthers’ strengths and weaknesses in those areas have really defined the 2020 season. The team has had no problem with the “Start fast” part this season, roaring out of the gate against the likes of Louisiana, ECU and App State. The “Finish strong” aspect has eluded them more times than not, leading to losses (such as in that Louisiana game) or leading to wins that should have been much less stressful down the stretch, like against ULM and Troy. On Saturday, the usual script flipped and there was no fast start to be found. But Georgia State’s play in the game’s final 20 minutes exemplified everything about “Finish strong” and the result was, in the end, a comfortable 31-14 on the road against South Alabama. What did it take? This is Upon Further Review.
Georgia State’s offense didn’t struggle to move the ball in the first half – by the time the halftime whistle blew, the Panthers had 272 yards at an average of 6.8 yards per play. The problem was four turnovers in the opening two quarters that totally doomed their chances of scoring off of that good flowing offense. First, on the opening series, Quad Brown couldn’t get enough loft on a pass out in the flat and DL Christian Bell was able to snag it out of the air and return it to the GSU 34 to set up the Jaguars’ offense with great field position for what would be their lone scoring drive of the half. Later in the quarter, after Carlos Davis’s 17-yard touchdown run opened the scoring, an acrobatic 18-yard catch-and-run by Roger Carter set Georgia State’s offense up in Jags territory for the first time of the game. But on the next play, Destin Coates coughed up the ball after gaining first-down yardage and Keon Voisin fell on it to give South Alabama’s defense their second takeaway of the quarter. The offense cut out the mistakes on a 96-yard touchdown drive split between the first and second quarters to tie the game and continued to have success moving the football, but after two interceptions in plus territory late in the half – the first on a bad forced throw by Quad, the second on an outstanding play in the end zone by South Alabama’s Devin Rockette – all the good play on offense had amounted to just the one touchdown and a 7-7 tie heading into the break.
If the first half didn’t amount to “Start fast”, both teams hit an even lower mark on that front to start the second half by trading punts twice apiece to start the third quarter. And then suddenly, after being stymied on the ground all afternoon, South Alabama’s offense put together their best drive of the day with a healthy dose of running the ball. After an eight-play, 70-yard drive – with six of the eight plays being runs – ended in a 7-yard Jared Wilson TD rush, the Jags improbably had the lead back at 14-7 and the Panthers were left rueing their mistakes. The Panthers went down 17-13 against Appalachian State with 4:55 left in the game last week and couldn’t put together one last drive to take the game back. This week, there was still 6:11 to go in the 3rd quarter and the offense answered the bell this time.
After the Jags had kept Georgia State’s top receiver Sam Pinckney largely under wraps for most of the game, a cornerback lost his footing for a split-second, Sam was left alone in the middle of the field and Quad found him for a 65-yard gain to the 3. One Tucker Gregg 3-yard touchdown run later, the South Alabama lead was gone almost as soon as it went up on the scoreboard at Hancock Whitney Stadium. The Georgia State defense had had a stellar game to that point, but it reached a new level right when it needed to. The Panthers scored in three plays after South Alabama took that 14-7 lead. Three plays after Georgia State knotted it back up, the Jags were punting it right back after a three-and-out. This pattern of a defensive stop followed by the offense putting points on the board repeated itself two more times and just like that, it was a 31-14 Georgia State lead that would ultimately become the final score.
Excellent complementary football, with both sides of the ball playing mistake-free and executing in key situations, meant that Georgia State truly finished strong for the first time this season and the result was a 17-point win on the road – a margin that the Panthers’ quality on the field Saturday warranted. The offense was tested after four turnovers in the first 30 minutes, but the two-headed rushing attack of Tucker Gregg and Jamyest Williams carried the load after Coates’ early fumble and Quad Brown grew up before everyone’s eyes in the second half, erasing the three interceptions he threw in the first half from his memory and coming out and setting a new career high in passing (334 yards). On defense, the front seven for Georgia State was in the backfield all day, making QB Desmond Trotter’s day miserable with a school record-equaling seven sacks and 12 total tackles for loss. Finally living up to “Finish strong” made the difference for the Panthers against South Alabama. If they can duplicate that second-half effort in their final game against Georgia Southern, they’ll finish the regular season strong as well with a two-game win streak and a winning record.
2020 True Freshman Tracker
Games played (7) – LB Terrell Gordon
Games played (6) – RB Marcus Carroll
Games played (4) – TE Ahmon Green
Games played (3) – LB Justin Abraham
Games played (2) – LS Collin Westfelt
Games played (1) – DB Jalen Tate, OL Mason Cook, WR Tailique Williams, TE Luke Purnell, TE Kris Byrd, WR Kellan Autenrieth, WR Robert Lewis, P Kade Loggins