It’s easy to say Georgia State played a one-win South Alabama on their schedule at the right time, given the two losses in the weeks preceding and the uncertainty which remained at the quarterback position. It also may be true to say it, but what is also true is the Panthers were going to have to find their identity on offense again after six quarters of struggles or they weren’t going to win against anyone on their schedule. How did they do on this Senior Day? This is Upon Further Review.
Whether it was the weather or just poor execution, Georgia State started the game very flat on offense – and for the first time all season, “More of the same” was a description with a negative connotation when describing the Georgia State offense. There was an early effort to get the ball to the outside in unique ways – namely, a WR end-around the first play from scrimmage followed by a WR screen pass on the perimeter – but South Alabama’s front was still keying in on the run game and stuffing the inside runs of Tra Barnett. Two drives earned the Panthers 7 total yards and two punts – the first of which was shanked, giving the Jaguars great field position to take a 3-0 lead – and something had to change and quick.
By the time the Panthers’ third drive rolled around, the rain which had haunted the first part of the game started to dissipate – eventually disappearing by halftime – and maybe there was a correlation there with the Georgia State offensive funk. QB Dan Ellington started to mix an effective play-action passing game with the running backs’ first real success in the trenches all game and – in true 2019 Georgia State style – led the offense to a 13-play, 82-yard touchdown drive to take the lead for the first time.
After a penalty on the Georgia State touchdown moved the kickoff back, RB Tra Minter broke off a 55-yard return to set the Jags up in prime field position to answer back. But while the Panthers offense had sputtered out of the gates, the defense really followed on from their early performance against App State and negated a lot of what South Alabama wanted to do offensively. The Jags had a first down wiped off by a penalty and their drive stalled out from there, turning it over on downs after a pass breakup on 4th-and-15 by the burgeoning safety Chris Bacon. The Panthers took over on offense and make it two touchdowns in as many drives, this time in the form of a tremendous catch in the corner of the end zone by senior WR Devin Gentry, to make it 14-3. The defense went back out and got another 4th-down stop, Victor Heyward recovering a fumble on the inside run, and the double-digit lead stood as it did going into the half.
The third quarter saw a continuation of where the teams left things at the break – short drives ending in punts for South Alabama, long drives into opposing territory for Georgia State. An Ellington interception – the result of the ball being tipped at the line – ended the Panthers’ first drive of the half in plus territory, but the Jags would only move backwards on the ensuing possession and were forced to punt it right back. By this time, the old football cliche of “The only one who can stop us is us” rang true for Georgia State – and they were done stopping themselves. The Panthers continued to pick South Alabama apart in the passing game and the running backs – who had been held to under 50 yards in the first half – started to assert their will on the game. Two more scoring drives pushed the lead out to 28-3 Panthers – a very secure scoreline in the minds of all Atlanta sports fans – and two late South Alabama scores on the backups couldn’t change the outcome.
On Senior Day, Georgia State played by far their best collective game in the month of November. But even when the offense got going, it wasn’t exactly the formula that had got them to a bowl game. For the first time maybe all season, Georgia State had to pass to set up the run. They did it, putting on their best passing performance since the Army game. And the truth is, unless Dan Ellington’s knee miraculously heals, the old formula is gone. But, as is the sign of a good offense and a good offensive coordinator, the Panthers adapted and took a different tack. They got the win they needed to totally lock up a bowl berth and finish with a program-best home record. And most important of all, Dan showed everyone it was foolish to count him out. A bigger test awaits in Statesboro on Saturday but the Panthers look ready for what’s coming.
2019 True Freshman Tracker
Games played (11): LS Seth Glausier*
Games played (10): ILB Jordan Veneziale*
Games played (6): WR Cadarrius Thompson*
Games played (4): QB Cornelious Brown
Games played (3): S Antavious Lane, LB Marcus Anderson
Games played (2): DB Bryquice Brown, WR Jamari Thrash, DL Thomas Gore, OL Luis Cristobal
Games played (1): QB Kierston Harvey
* = Redshirt exhausted