Upon Further Review: Troy
It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t effortless, and it got way too close at the end of the game, but on Saturday, the Georgia State Panthers secured their first road victory against the Troy Trojans in program history. Panther fans were treated to the highs and lows of a young quarterback, but ultimately Georgia State left Veterans Memorial Stadium with an important win against a conference opponent that has historically given them fits. There’s a few things worth monitoring from Saturday’s win. This is Upon Further Review.
The elephant in the room should be addressed first: The defensive performance on Saturday did not seem great on paper. Backup QB Jacob Free took over for an injured Gunnar Watson midway through the first quarter and proceeded to throw for 329 yards, 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. Including Watson’s completions and yards, the Troy QBs combined to go 32 for 48, with 407 yards, 3 TDs and 2 INTs. That obviously isn’t great, but it doesn’t tell the entire story of the Georgia State defense. For starters, the Panthers defense only gave up 20 points. Similar to the ECU game, the Panthers offense gifted their defensive counterparts with points, this time spotting Troy with 14 points on a pick-6 and a fumble returned for a score. Take those points away and you find a Georgia State defense that employed a bend-don’t-break philosophy, one that had a good bit of success. That strategy was on full display when Troy marched down the field to open the second half, but Antavious Lane picked off a Jacob Free pass in the end zone, ending the Trojan drive after 8 plays and 72 yards. That by definition is opportunistic, and that’s a great word to describe this defense.
And speaking of that opportunistic defense, the unit is playing with contributions from everyone. The Panthers were without Hardrick Willis and Qua White for their game against Troy, but their replacements, Javon Denis and Bryquice Brown, both stepped up in big ways. A theme is emerging on the Georgia State defense and it has everything to do with their linebackers. It was impossible to watch Saturday’s defensive performance and not rave about the play of Jordan Strachan and Blake Carroll. Strachan took home Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Week honors for his performance, and it was well-deserved, as it was impossible to miss him on the field. At the rate Strachan is going, he will become the Georgia State career sack leader by the end of the 2020 season just on his sack total from this season. He picked up 2.5 against the Trojans, forcing and recovering a fumble on one. The secondary secured two more interceptions – on the 2020 season now, the Panthers have gotten multiple picks in three out of their four contests. That’s as opportunistic as it gets.
It’s worth noting that the Georgia State offense is also deserving of praise. Despite Quad having an up-and-down game, the offense continued its streak of rushing for over 200 yards to begin the season and found ways to get it done on the ground despite inconsistent offensive line play. The Trojans did a good job of daring anyone but Sam Pinckney to beat them and Roger Carter took that challenge and obliged. Carter’s second touchdown was the direct result of an offense that had found its feet running the ball and a defense that sold out hard to stop it.
The Panthers started slow on the ground, only tallying 32 rushing yards with 5:29 left in the first half. But after the back-to-back turnovers for touchdowns, the Panthers leaned in on their running game and produced a 10-play, 62-yard drive. The result of that drive, which ate up 4:50 of the game clock, was a 31-yard Noel Ruiz field goal that cut the Trojan lead to 8 just before halftime. While the offensive line was pushed around by the Troy defense early, Destin Coates and Tucker Gregg found ways to create space on their own or ran straight downhill over Trojan defenders. Later in the game, the Panthers had a similar string of running plays, this time using a 14-play, 55-yard drive to eat up 6:35 in the 4th quarter. These types of back-breaking, clock-killing drives are the perfect complement to get a struggling young QB some time to recalibrate and go back to making good decisions on the field. Given Quad’s turnovers and inconsistency throwing the ball, the ground game bailing him out was a good reason why Georgia State won.
It’s easy to see how good the offense has been in 2020, but don’t forget about the Georgia State defense. The offense has gotten the majority of the love – deservingly so – but the opportunistic bunch on the other side of the ball is a mighty capable unit that has done its fair share of good to help the Panthers win football games this season. It might be a while before the sexier stats match the eye test with Nate Fuqua’s squad, but it’s still a group with some great football and plenty of surprises ahead of it.
2020 True Freshman Tracker
Games played (4) – RB Marcus Carroll
Games played (3) – LB Terrell Gordon
Games played (2) – LB Justin Abraham
Games played (1) – LS Collin Westfelt, DB Jalen Tate, TE Ahmon Green