ULM came into Saturday afternoon with a 3-0 record in league play and a schedule that made it very possible to be 6-0 in the Sun Belt entering November. Georgia State was heading to Monroe after consecutive road wins over Charlotte and Coastal Carolina, but we were not sure what to take from those wins.
Looks like we weren’t giving Shawn Elliott’s squad enough credit.
Georgia State rolled into Malone Stadium and dominated the Warhawks on Saturday afternoon for sixty minutes. Conner Manning threw for a school record 446 yards, Penny hard had 11 receptions for a school record 190 receiving yards, the skill position players posted 224 rushing yards as the Panthers rolled up a school record 670 yards of total offense.
It was domination from the first whistle as Georgia State would go 77 yards in six plays on the game’s opening drive to claim an early lead on the Warhawks. The Panthers did it in many different ways as they hit on their fair share of big plays as well as going on long, sustained drives. To begin the fourth quarter, Travis Trickett’s offense marched 95 yards in 15 plays for their final touchdown to really put the game on ice.
After being totally shutdown in the opener, the coaching has made a concerted effort to get the ground game going and the hard work certainly paid off on Saturday. Georgia State had eight different players receive carries and as a team they averaged 5.5 yards per carry.
Trickett kept the ULM defense on their heels all night with good mix of play calls. The Panthers were able to achieve balance and the offensive line did an excellence job giving Manning plenty of time to throw the football. This group put it all together on Saturday.
It was an outstanding performance on the other side of the football for the Panthers as well at Malone Stadium. Nate Fuqua’s unit shut down Caleb Evans who entered Saturday as one of the hottest players in the Sun Belt. The sophomore only threw for 89 yards and was limited to 12 yards rushing. Evans lost a fumble in the second half and that led to the ULM coaching staff to make a change behind center.
This is where the Georgia State defense began to sputter as Garrett Smith entered the game and led the Warhawks on touchdown drives in their last last four possessions. Smith threw for 225 yards on 14 of 23 pass attempts with three scores. The junior also chipped in 22 rushing yards and ULM may have another quarterback competition on their hands.
The running game, however, never got going as Georgia State held ULM to 117 yards on 37 carries. ULM became one dimensional and in a shootout that is never a good mix. Derrick Gore led the team in rushing with 32 yards on 10 carries.
A huge bright spot for the Warhawks was wide receiver Marcus Green. The junior continues to make big plays for the ULM offense as he returned a kick 93 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter and reeled in an 80-yard touchdown from Garrett Smith in the third quarter. Green has been one of the most dynamic players in the Sun Belt this season and he’s starting to become must see television whenever the Warhawks are on the tube.
With as much improvement this ULM team has shown in year two under Matt Viator, the defense still has most of the warts that were present in 2016. ULM entered Saturday as being one of the worst defenses in the country in giving up big plays and that only got worse. Four of Georgia State’s touchdowns covered at least 20 yards and whenever the Panthers crossed midfield they cashed in with points. Defensive coordinator Mike Lucas still has a lot to figure out with this group.
ULM’s strong special teams play continued as Marcus Green just makes plays and Craig Ford is one of the most reliable kickers in the Sun Belt. Georgia State’s third phase continues to struggle as the Warhawks were able to consistently get off good returns on all the kickoffs they received. However, kicker Brandon Wright bounced back strong after missing the opening extra point. Wright hit both of his field goals, including a long of 46 yards, and he averaged 56 yards per punt. It was an excellent night for the program from Atlanta.
Now Georgia State finally gets to return home and play in Atlanta for the first time since August. This is currently a team playing as well as anyone in the Sun Belt as they are riding a three-game winning streak and a 2-0 start in Sun Belt play. The Troy Trojans will be rolling into town next weekend and if GSU can find a win their bowl hopes will be looking excellent. Georgia State could be staring at a bunch of meaningful games in November.
It was a brutal performance by ULM, but the Warhawks had been playing with fire during this winning streak. The turnover margin and explosive special teams play was hiding a lot of warts. These were all exposed on Saturday after ULM squeaked out wins over UL-Lafayette and Coastal Carolina. The defense has a long way to go as Matt Viator’s club will travel to Mobile to take on a South Alabama club fresh off a monumental victory.