Upon Further Review: Troy

S Ant Lane celebrates during a pick he registered in Saturday’s win over Troy. Photo: Jordan Crawford for THERSdayNight.com

Georgia State won their regular season finale against Troy by an emphatic margin, 37-10, but it didn’t have to be that way. After all, they had sealed their bowl eligibility a week prior against Arkansas State and the Trojans came into the game at 5-6, needing to win to fill the Sun Belt’s fifth and final bowl slot. Sure, Troy had dealt with a lot of upheaval during the week, in the form of firing head coach Chip Lindsey and inserting defensive coordinator Brandon Hall as the interim, but they were still squarely the team that should have shown up with a big chip on their shoulder. Instead, it was the Panthers who jumped out to a big lead early and never looked back, ending Troy’s season and cementing what had been a remarkable turnaround from 1-4 to 7-5 to cap their best-ever conference season. Where did the dominant performance manifest from? This is Upon Further Review.

Clinical with Chances

The final margin in total yards between the teams was slanted just in favor of Georgia State, 387 to 344, but the stat that told the story was the turnovers. Specifically, the number of note was the 17 points the Panthers scored off Troy’s four turnovers and the 0 points the Trojans managed to score off of Georgia’s State two. After they had taken a 7-0 lead and forced a Troy three-and-out on the next possession, the Panthers were primed to take over and take an early foothold in the game. That was, until Quavian White muffed the punt and Troy pounced on the loose ball at the GSU 27-yard-line. But, starting a trend for the day, the Trojans did nothing with the opportunity, with Tez Johnson fumbling on the first play of the drive on the short field and Blake Carroll scooping it up for a key takeaway. On the two drives Troy started after a forced turnover – both in the 1st quarter – they managed just 3 yards from scrimmage on four plays.

On the other side of things, Georgia State kept putting up points when Troy coughed it up. When Antavious Lane intercepted Gunnar Watson in the 2nd quarter, the offense drove down the field and Noel Ruiz added a 43-yard field goal to give the Panthers a 17-0 lead. The defense scored directly off the next turnover they forced, when Jamil Muhammad picked up a Blake Carroll forced fumble and ran it back 72 yards for the score that gave the Panthers a healthy 27-3 lead in the middle of the 3rd quarter. And finally, Jamyest Williams made Bryquice Brown’s interception on the second play of the 4th quarter count with a 50-yard rushing touchdown that was the exclamation point on a very good day for Georgia State. And the other drive that started after the Panthers’ defense had forced a turnover only ended at the Troy 2-yard-line, when Darren Grainger fumbled into the end zone and Javon Solomon recovered it for a touchback.

15 Minutes of Flame

Troy struggled mightily moving the football for most of the first half, but they actually started finding a rhythm in their downfield passing game as the game went on. This, though, is where the Georgia State defensive front stepped in. Early on, the offensive game plan for the Trojans was to get the ball out fast in the form of screen passes and quick routes for the receivers. It didn’t lead to much production, but it kept a Panthers front seven fresh off a 6-sack performance against Arkansas State mostly at bay through two quarters. As Troy started opening up the passing playbook and running longer-developing plays in the second half, the D-line and linebackers started teeing off. 

On their first drive of the 3rd, Deshon Stoudemire hauled in a 20-yard catch which set Troy up just outside midfield. Two plays later, Jhi’Shawn Taylor got Georgia State’s first sack of the day. And a few plays after that, as Troy continued to emphasize their dropback passing game, Blake Carroll came untouched and got the strip-sack that led to Jamil Muhammad’s fumble return TD that broke open the game. The next Troy drive, a 45-yard pass from Gunnar Watson to Tez Johnson set them up with a 1st-and-goal at the 10. Muhammad, though, wasn’t satisfied with his defensive touchdown and went to work, getting two sacks in the space of three plays to turn the red zone opportunity into 4th-and-goal at the 28. When Brooks Buce’s kick dinged off the left upright, the defense had made their impact felt to the tune of another scoreless drive. Dontae Wilson added a sack on the final play of the quarter to hammer home the point that the Georgia State defense had dominated the frame. They had 5 sacks in the 15-minute period, the only sacks all game for the unit, an effort that turned the game on its head.

STATEment Win

It again bears repeating that, of the two teams in Center Parc Stadium Saturday afternoon, Troy was the one who had an actual tangible thing to play for – a bowl bid. With their comfortable win, Georgia State did tie the program-best 7-5 regular season record and set a new mark in conference record at 6-2, but a loss here likely would have meant nothing different for the Panthers. At 6-6 and 5-3 in conference, they’d still overwhelmingly be expected to earn a bowl appearance. In fact, Saturday’s win probably doesn’t move Georgia State up in the pecking order of the conference bowl selections. But for Georgia State to continue advancing as a program, winning this game still mattered a great deal – and up against a team that was playing for their season, the manner in which the Panthers did it is all the more impressive. They believed they were better, and they showed up and spelled out exactly how true that sentiment was.

This wasn’t predestined as a win. In 2017, Coach Elliott’s first season in Atlanta, Georgia State ran on the field for Senior Day with a 6-4 record. They were facing a 3-8 Idaho team that, A, could not make a bowl game, B, was destined to drop down to FCS and leave the conference at season’s end and, C, was starting a freshman QB – Colton Richardson – in his second career start. The Panthers limped out of that game 24-10 losers and blew a chance to hit both milestones they managed after Saturday’s win – 7 regular season wins and a 6-2 conference record. There was no similarly sour note in last week’s result and it hopefully marks a huge step the program has taken in just five short years – knowing that there’s always something to play for and always a reason to go out and perform. Georgia State played that way against Troy to finish a transformative 6-1 end to the season, and if they keep that mentality going, a bowl win would make a new program-best 8-win campaign a reality and set the stage for even better days in 2022.

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