This piece is not about Dan Ellington. It could be. It’s easy to pin dropping this road game on the loss of a talismanic quarterback who should still receive Sun Belt Player of the Year votes even if he doesn’t play another down this season (For clarity: We don’t have any information other than that he’s likely not playing this Saturday against Appalachian State. Just a hypothetical). But the facts are these – the score was tied at 24 when Ellington left injured late in the 2nd quarter and it was tied at 31 going into the 4th quarter. The final score was ULM 45, Georgia State 31. Why did Georgia State really come up short in Monroe? This is Upon Further Review.
The biggest questions coming into this game revolved around if the powerhouse Georgia State offense could pick up where they left off after a bye week. From the first drive, it was clear that, yes, they could and, yes, they would. The offense came out and put up points on four of the five drives Dan led the offense on – discounting the sixth drive during which he got injured on the first play. In the previous game against Troy, they had four scores in six drives in the first half. Georgia State took a 14-point lead into the half of that game and they were tied going into the half of this one. Therein lies the fundamental difference – the defense which got early stops and got pressure on the quarterback two weeks previous is not the same one who got off the bus in Louisiana.
Full credit should go to ULM and their players. Their offense is no joke and Caleb Evans is at the forefront of that. They matched Georgia State’s offensive intensity in the trenches and in their hard-nosed running after contact – a feat not that many teams have done in 2019. But after a promising stretch of games for the Panther defense – punctuated by a season-high four sacks last time out against Troy – this was a real step back. A lot of what went well was due to good execution by the Warhawk offense, but total blown coverages allowing receivers run free and missed tackles are controllable things that led directly to explosive plays and points on the board for ULM in the first 30 minutes. Georgia State rattled off the four-game winning streak that this loss ended largely by avoiding being in back-and-forth shootouts. Being in a 24-24 game on the road in the second quarter already had Georgia State behind the 8-ball before Dan’s injury.
In the second half, Cornelious ‘Quad’ Brown came out for his first full drive in charge and the immediate answer of how to handle a true freshman running the offense was to really let Tra Barnett handle it – feeding the senior running back while working in a deep throw for Brown down the sideline to Sam Pinckney (Quad’s first career completion) to spring open the drive. This drive stalled out in field goal range, where mistake number one happened – Brandon Wright’s 42-yard attempt gets blocked. The offense mainly kept things on track with the backup QB in, he even got a big chunk play in the passing game and the blocked field goal means Georgia State came away empty-handed. This was compounded when ULM went 90 yards in three plays to take the lead at 31-24.
The Panthers were able to respond on offense in eight plays – all runs- for a 75-yard touchdown drive to knot it at 31 and the defense was able to slow down the Warhawk offensive attack, forcing a missed field goal of their own after a near-7-minute drive. But a holding penalty stalled the next Georgia State drive and, despite making the ULM offense put together another long drive, the defense couldn’t get off the field and the Warhawks took back the lead through a Markis McCray TD catch. Now, at 7:40 left in the game, Georgia State got the ball back with a chance to level it and maybe run down the clock while they were at it. Tra Barnett started the drive off with a 18-yard scamper into Warhawk territory – but the next play, he fumbled and ULM recovered, ending a promising chance to equalize. The Georgia State defense got the necessary three-and-out, but when the offense couldn’t advance past the sticks and failed on 4th down deep in their own territory, the end was nigh for the Panthers.
None of this is to ignore what a healthy Dan Ellington for four quarters could bring. Of course the result could have – and likely would have – been different, and college football would have been all the richer for getting to watch a full game of Dan Ellington versus Caleb Evans. The point is that in this game, how it did play out, the game was still well in the Panthers’ grasp even after losing their senior quarterback. Mistakes and missed chances by the defense and special teams – and also by offensive players not named Ellington or Brown – piled up and proved costly. Cleaning those up is going to be imperative regardless of who is lined up under center the rest of the season.
2019 True Freshman Tracker
Games played (9): ILB Jordan Veneziale, LS Seth Glausier
Games played (4): WR Cadarrius Thompson
Games played (3): QB Cornelious Brown
Games played (2): DB Bryquice Brown, WR Jamari Thrash
Games played (1): OL Luis Cristobal, S Antavious Lane, DL Thomas Gore, LB Marcus Anderson