Saturday has come and gone, there’s been time to reflect and there’s no way to sugarcoat it – this loss to Texas State was bad, bordering on disastrous, for Georgia State. An inability to kill the game and a series of unforced errors led to this costly defeat in San Marcos. How did this happen and where can the Panthers go from here? This is Upon Further Review.
Highlighting the positives, the offense had long stretches where they were moving the ball at will and doing a good job of staying in manageable 3rd down distances, converting on 11 of 21 for the game (11 of 18 in regulation. More on this later). Dan Ellington wasn’t perfect but he was closer to his form of the first two games, passing for 219 and 3 TDs and adding 53 on the ground. It’s clear Dan and Sam Pinckney are really finding their chemistry, as the Ellington-Pinckney connection is becoming more and more prominent as the season wears on. Sam, for his part, had 7 catches for 95 yards, including the go-ahead touchdown in the first overtime period. And it was another game, another touchdown catch for TE Aubry Payne, who is seriously cementing his status as a red zone target in his first season with GSU.
Defensively, the final rushing yardage (221 yards) looks bad considering Texas State came in averaging 24 rushing yards a game, but after a woeful performance rife with big runs against Western Michigan, the Georgia State defense mostly clamped down, prevented big plays and made Texas State put drives together. The Bobcats had a trio of 20-yard runs, none longer than 22, and no pass play longer than 28 yards. The main takeaway is that the Panther D got some key stops and gave the offense a chance to win the game. A week after the defensive performance took the team completely out of the game, only 20 defensive points allowed in regulation was a major improvement and should have been enough to help the Panthers win.
For all the good, this was still a Panther loss. On the balance of the raw numbers, it should have been a Georgia State win – plain and simple. And the reason it wasn’t was, put simply, mistakes. There were mistakes on offense, on defense, in special teams and in coaching which combined to consign the Panthers to an 0-1 start to Sun Belt play. Right on the first drive of the game, Dan Ellington tried to force a throw to Cornelius McCoy and it got intercepted. Texas State started in tremendous field position and got a field goal despite being held to a three-and-out. Following this, Georgia State marched down the field to take a 7-3 lead and then forced a stop on defense. The Panthers were set to regain possession and try and put a stamp on the game. But the ensuing punt resulted in a bad muff by McCoy when he should have let the punt go and Texas State recovered in the end zone for the easiest touchdown they’ll ever get. It was 10-7 TXST after one, despite the fact the Bobcats had just 46 total yards.
The Panther offense was really moving the ball well all game but big mistakes will haunt them on their review of this game during this bye week. A first half drive fizzled out at the TXST 31 with a failed fourth down conversion and, down 20-17 in the 3rd, Ellington and RB Destin Coates messed up the exchange on a read option play, a costly fumble at the TXST 8-yard-line. You can’t take it into opposing territory twice and come up empty-handed and win football games. The defense, as mentioned, did its part to keep the team in the game but had two interceptions hit their hands. If Georgia State is able to come up with even one impactful turnover, as Texas State was, the game may have ended differently.
Finally, we have arrived at the end-game sequence. Georgia State was down 27-24 late but drove into the red zone with plenty of time to find the end zone and escape with a win. The Panthers had a single timeout remaining with under 40 seconds to go but had to burn it when receiver Matlin Marshall didn’t get out of bounds on a reception, fighting for extra yards instead. But after a pass interference in the end zone, Georgia State were primed to win – 1st-and-goal from the 2. But, inexplicably, they ran the ball with Coates with 15 seconds to go, getting stuffed and forcing a mad scramble to spike the ball for a tying field goal. 15 seconds and 4 downs is an eternity. Instead of two, maybe three shots in the end zone to a big target like Pinckney or Payne, you got one run that didn’t work and nearly lost the chance to get a field goal off. Quite simply, this was a cataclysmic missed opportunity by the coaching staff to put the game away.
Nonetheless, kicker Brandon Wright knocked the tying field goal through from 20 yards and we had overtime. Georgia State started in possession and scored fast and easy. They had Texas State dead to rights with a 4th and 6 in their offensive possession, but the Bobcats stayed alive with simultaneous pass interference and roughing the passer penalties on GSU. They scored to tie it at 34 and moved the game to a second overtime. In 2OT, Texas State was going nowhere in a hurry and missed a long field goal. All Georgia State had to do was score. A painfully conservative playcalling sequence (6 plays for -3 yards in the final two overtimes for the Panther offense, 0-3 on third down in OT) left it up to Wright to win the game with a kick from 46 yards out. He missed, missed again in 3OT and the Bobcats used their ninth life to win it 37-34.
Georgia State started 2-0. They go into the bye week at 2-2 off of entirely different but equally deflating losses. There’s so much that had to go wrong for the Panthers not to finish this one off, but it follows a theme from the Furman win of not being able to kill off games. It didn’t cost them against Furman. It did this past Saturday – and it will continue to do so if the team don’t clean up mistakes of their own design.