After the best season in program history, the Georgia State Panthers start the 2016 season under the lights of the Georgia Dome with an appropriate theme, TAKE THE NEXT STEP.
The first step was taken last season with a stellar performance lead by the Sun Belt Conference Coach of the Year Trent Miles. They caught fire going down the stretch because the defense laid a brick wall allowing only 14.25 points and 328 yards a game. They won their final 4 including a defeat of their traditional powerhouse rival, Georgia Southern in a “win and get in” showdown. They won in aggressive fashion 34-7 with the team making its first appearance in a bowl game. (AuAutoNationure Bowl in Orlando, Florida). The Panthers look to carry on the momentum. They have arrived as a football program and growth for the University is on the rise as well. After merging with Perimeter College which grew the school’s student population to one of the largest in the state at more than 50,000, they acquired the current Atlanta Braves stadium. The Braves are moving to Cobb County to a state of the art new facility. With the blessing and support of the city of Atlanta they have committed 200 million dollars to making Turner Field the new house for Panthers football starting in 2017.
The Mayor Kaseem Reid was thrilled to make the announcement for the project that’s promising to have a major progressive impact on the revitalization of the entire community. The project will include student housing, a neighborhood grocery store as well as much needed improvements. The Panthers have also agreed to play the Tennessee Volunteers of the SEC in 2019 for $950,000.
GA State was established in 1913. The football program is just 6 years old. They finished last year ranked number four, and have maintained that status in the Sunbelt preseason poll despite losing their all everything quarterback Nick Arbuckle, the 2015 Sunbelt Conference Player of the year, who threw for more the seven thousand yards and fifty touchdowns in the last two years. Surely this ranking comes due in part to the 16 returning starters nine on defense and seven on offense. Bobby Baker and Robert Davis have been named to the 2016-2017 Senior Bowl watch list, if either one is selected it will be the first time for any Panther.
Baker 6-2, 200 Lbs. returns as the starting safety. He is a preseason All –Sunbelt First Team All Conference Selection and on the watch list for the Jim Thorpe Award. Davis a home grown product 6-3, 220 Lbs. is from just down the road in Warner Robins. He is a two time All-Conference Player and is on the watch list for the Biletnikoff Award as a potential candidate for the nations’ top receiving award. With returning players of that caliber the fourth year head coach Miles is building a bright future for the Panthers. Unfortunately it’s the future not the present Ball State is the here and now.
The game started well with GSU jumping out to an early lead on a (16) Jerome Smith 48 yard interception return to the house at the 13:48 mark in the first quarter. On the next series Smith picked off another (15) Riley Neal pass at the 34 yard line giving his offensive friends posession deep in enemy territory. It looked like it was going to be two early scores but the Ball Sate Cardinals defense stood strong allowing 2 short runs and a pass completion before putting them in a decisive 4th and 2 from the 24. When you are the reigning coach of the year you go for the throat early, take the wind out of their sail and use it to gain momentum. If I; “the arm chair coach” faced the same circumstances of having a new kicker and holder. I would have done the exact thing. Why not roll the dice? The odds are in your favor. Grab the momentum early. Stuffing their attempt middle linebacker (2) Zack Ryan stopped Emiere Saife for a 2 yard loss. That series and play set the tone for the rest of the night. A lot of opportunity with the inability to seize them, 4 plays 6 yards 1:41 and no score on a gift. As an offense when you get possession with a short field you must make them pay.
Ball State took over on possession and quickly went to the fast break no huddle offense but could only go four and out. GSU looked good on their next possession hitting three straight pass completions. Manning hit (15) Todd Boyd for 5 yards, (18) Penny Hart for no gain, then (45) Keith Rucker for 7 yards, then disaster struck on a nice hit by defensive end (98) Anthony Winbush causing (17) Glenn Smith to cough it up. That drive was only 4 plays for 13 yards. Ball State took over on the 35 mustering only 4 yards before (22) Morgan Hagee missed on a 48 yard field goal attempt.
On the first play of their next possession starting quarterback (7) Conner Manning operating under extreme duress, just threw it up for an interception by (8) Corey Hall. He brought it back to the GSU 41. (34) James Gilbert made them pay for the turnover by punching it in from the one to cap off a 9 play 41 yard drive that took 3:53 off the clock. At the end of the first quarter we were back to ground zero score GSU 7, Ball State 7. On the first play of the second quarter Manning made up for the miscue by tossing a 14 yard touchdown pass to (18) Penny Hart to cap off an 11 play drive bringing the score to GSU 14, Ball State 7.
Ball States next drive was halted by a false start to kill their momentum before punting it back to the Panthers. Then there was a series of ugly play. Illegal block in the back followed by a delay of game, next a pass interference by them, then a fumble by Manning, recovered by Manning at their on 12 yard line, simply put that was ugly football for both teams. To end the first half Ball State was able to put together a 14 play 44 yard drive consuming 6:24. (34) James Gilbert scored on a 1 yard touchdown run with .10 seconds remaining. The half ended, GSU 14, Ball State 14. Again back to ground zero. There was nothing to write home about in the third quarter, only three points on a 44 yard field goal by strong leg kicker (22) Morgan Hagee. At the end of three quarters Ball State 17, GSU 14. Perhaps more significant than the score was the difference in time of possession 10:42 vs 04:11 as Ball State continued to put the pressure on running that up tempo no huddle offense. The defense simply ran out of gas allowing first a 14 yard touchdown run to ( 6 ) Teddy Williamson then another 8 yarder to (25) Darian Green followed by a successful try by (22) Morgan Hagee it was all over at Ball State 31- GSU 14. The hometown hopefuls were able to get on the board one more time to make the final score 31-21 on a 13 yard run by back up QB ( 11 ) Aaron Winchester who entered the game early in the forth quarter with his back against the wall on 1st and 10 from his own one. He brought a spark to the offense with his electric feet to become their leading rusher on eight carries for 61 yards and 1 touchdown in less than a quarter of play. Even though Connor Manning’s performance was less than stellar Coach Miles accepted responsibility stating “you can’t blame it on him if you going to blame it on anybody blame it on me”.
When a team starts the season without a clearly defined starting QB you start without an identity. As a coach, what are you supposed to do if neither guy steps up and clearly out plays the other to earn the spot. The Ole Ball Coach Steve Spurrier would say “you play both”. I guess you give the guy with the most experience a shot. If he doesn’t thrive in the game or a certain number of games, you go to the young guy.
- No need to panic. It didn’t go the GSU way tonight. They are simply experiencing growing pains. I wouldn’t sell the house just yet this is a program that’s he rise. When you lose your team leader and the conferences’ top player to an NFL camp you have to learn to live life without out his physical talents and leadership that permeates the locker room.
- It’s not like Alabama, Florida State, or Ohio State where you graduate a number one draft pick and simply reload with another.
- There appears to be a healthy completion for the teams’ top position between Connor Manning, the better passer, and Aaron Winchester, the better runner. It wouldn’t surprise me if Winchester get more action or even start the next game, he looked good in clean up.
- Offense must be able to sustain drives and keep the defense off the field
- Must find a running game with the running backs GSU had only 2 yards rushing in the first half
- Young players, please don’t point your finger at the defender while running up the sideline for a touchdown they will call it taunting.