In Shawn Elliott’s first season in Atlanta, the Panthers have done a lot of good things. This team is getting better each week, has gotten off to a fast start in Sun Belt play, and has recorded three road victories.
However, they were still looking for their first victory in their brand new stadium.
That would happen on Thursday night.
Georgia State played their best defensive game of the year as Nate Fuqua’s unit held South Alabama to 41 yards on 23 carries and Dallas Davis was forced to throw the ball 48 times. The Panthers forced two turnovers and they were in the driver’s seat all night.
Davis, the junior who had played very well during during South Alabama’s wins over Troy and ULM, was just not very effective when the Jags became one-dimensional. South Alabama only scored one touchdown and it came with 2:11 remaining in the fourth quarter when the quarterback found Jamarius Way on a go route for a 75-yard score. If you take out that splash play, Davis had just 222 passing yards on 47 attempts. That equals out to 4.7 yards per attempt average. You’re not going to win very many games with numbers like that.
It was clear that Georgia State wanted to stop the run and that’s exactly what they did. Xavier Johnson, who just became South Alabama’s all-time leading rusher in the win over ULM, was held to negative-three yards on seven carries. The senior had one catch for three yards. That’s zero yards on eight touches. South Alabama cannot expect to beat anyone when there stud posts a doughnut.
It was bad from the jump for the South Alabama offense as on the second play from scrimmage, tight end Maasieah Francis dropped a pass and Georgia State safety Bryan Williams would pick it off on the tip drill and return it inside the South Alabama 10. Three plays later, quarterback Conner Manning would hit Glenn Smith for a three-yard touchdown and Georgia State would own the lead for the rest of the night.
For the game, Manning would finish 17-for-31 for 195 yards and two touchdowns. With their defense dominating, it appeared offensive coordinator Travis Trickett didn’t feel the need to get aggressive as the Panthers didn’t even try to stretch the field vertically most of the night with their passing attack.
Georgia State was able to get away with that game plan because they were able to establish the run. This has been an issue for this football team all season, but their offensive line created some movement at the line of scrimmage. Glenn Smith led the team with 73 yards on 17 carries to go with two receptions for 36 yards out of the backfield. The Panthers only ran for 114 yards, but anytime this offense gets triple-digits on the ground it’s a big win.
As always, Penny Hart led the team in receiving as he had six receptions for 98 yards with one touchdown. In Georgia State’s touchdown drive in the fourth quarter, Hart had three grabs for 69 yards in a nine-play 79-yard drive.
After the two teams traded punts for most of the first half, Georgia State led 7-3 when they started their possession at their own five-yard line with 5:14 remaining in the second quarter. Eight plays and 95 yards later, Kyler Neal ran it in from seven yards out with 1:43 remaining until halftime. Conner Manning was 4-for-5 on the drive and Glenn Smith ran for 22 yards and had one reception for 36 yards. This was the difference in the game.
In the second half, when South Alabama really needed to get something going, the Jags went three-and-out to begin the third quarter. Then Georgia State would milk over seven minutes off the clock in their next drive. The Panthers would miss a field goal, but this pretty much ended South Alabama’s comeback attempt unless they could produce some big plays.
Outside of the Way touchdown, South Alabama only threatened once in the fourth quarter. The Jags would go 59 yards in 13 plays, but would turn it over on downs with 4:41 remaining. After that, South Alabama would have to use all of their timeouts and not having those loomed large.
After scoring the touchdown, South Alabama recovered the onside kick. However, a drop by Sa’Mory Collier on what would’ve been a first down put South Alabama into third down and eventually the Jags would turn it over on downs again.
The play of the night happened near the end of the third quarter when South Alabama lined up for a 46-yard field goal. Gavin Patterson’s kick would bang off the upright and then bounce twice on the crossbar before barely dropping through. They call it the Fun Belt for a reason.
Follow the bouncing ball. pic.twitter.com/TJbmIMkJfQ— Creg Stephenson (@CregStephenson) October 27, 2017
Moving forward, it’s going to be difficult for South Alabama to reach the postseason. The Jags currently sit at 3-5 and will be an underdog when Arkansas State comes to town and in the finale against New Mexico State in Las Cruces. This game was monumental in the Jags’ bowl efforts and a win would have presented them a chance to make a run at a conference title.
For Georgia State, it was impressive bounce back performance after being crushed by Troy just a few days ago. The Panthers now stand at 4-3 and will be favorites in three of their final four games. The other is when Appalachian State comes to Atlanta on Thanksgiving Saturday. Shawn Elliott may be your favorite for Sun Belt coach of the year honors.