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Three Things We Learned in the Sun Belt: Week One

The Fun Belt was unable to collect a statement win to kickoff the season.

Arkansas State v Nebraska
Behind an impressive performance from Justice Hansen, the Red Wolves took Nebraska to the wire in Lincoln.
Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images

We’ve officially wrapped up our first weekend of action in the Fun Belt and a lot was learned and established. This will be a weekly piece that will run every Sunday to tell you the big three takeaways from the week. After some time to think about it, here’s what we came up with for week one.


No Statement Win

The league’s top dogs were each heading on the road with opportunities for a big time win. We all thought each would have the opportunity to cash in for a potentially statement win to start off the season. That did not happen.

Troy headed to Boise State and their offense could never get off the ground as the Trojans only posted 215 yards of total offense. Neal Brown’s group was only able to produce 11 first downs and the only touchdown of the day came from corner Blace Brown on a pick-six in the second quarter.

Even with this ineptitude on offense, the Trojans were able to keep within one possession until the final two minutes when tight end Jake Roh reeled in a seven yard touchdown pass to stretch the lead to double-digits. It may be time to pump the brakes on the offensive expectations for Troy and realize that defensive coordinator Vic Koenning is one of the best in the Group of Five.

Over in Athens, it was the 10-year anniversary of the Appalachian State victory over Michigan and the program was even a huge topic of College Gameday. The Mountaineers were taking on a Georgia team they believed they were ready to compete with. That was not the case.

The talent of the Georgia roster was just too much to overcome as the Dawgs held a strong Appalachian State rushing attack to just 136 yards on 33 carries. Georgia headed into the fourth quarter with a very comfortable 31-0 lead and the Mountaineers were never truly in the game.

App State was able to finish plus-two in the turnover margin, but penalties really held Scott Satterfield’s team back. The Mountaineers had 11 penalties on the day for 105 yards and that really ended any chances to be competitive against Kirby Smart’s squad.

To close out the night, Arkansas State traded blows with Nebraska for 60 minutes in Memorial Stadium. Blake Anderson’s club put on a impressive offensive performance as quarterback Justice Hansen threw 68 times and accumulated 415 yards passing. For the night, the Red Wolves finished with 497 yards of total offense against a Big Ten defense under hot shot coordinator Bob Diaco.

The Red Wolves couldn’t force any turnovers and the two interceptions thrown by Hansen probably costed them the game. Arkansas State won the total yardage battle 497-463 and in first downs, Arkansas State had 32 to Nebraska’s 25. With Anderson back to calling the offense, this could be the best attack in the Sun Belt if a ground game is found.

Disappointment in Atlanta

This past Thursday we saw the grand opening of Georgia State Stadium in downtown Atlanta and it seemed like a new day for the Panthers. Shawn Elliott would be making his head coaching debut and it was a sellout crowd at Parker H. Petit Field.

However, the party was crashed right away.

Tennessee State rolled into town with Florida transfer Treon Harris at quarterback and stunned the Panthers with a 17-10 upset victory. The scary part was that it never looked good for GSU at any point in the game.

The Panthers gave up 238 yards on the ground and were only able to produce 49 yards on 28 carries. Conner Manning was knocked out of the game in the second half after completing 14-of-17 passes. Georgia State had four turnovers for the night and were unable to force any.

It was just a brutal way to start a new era of the football program and Elliott has his work cut out for him in first year as a full-time FBS head coach. The Panthers have a bye coming up before a daunting task at Penn State. Add in the fact that three of their next four Group of Five games are on the road and it’s quite possible the Panthers could be looking at an 0-6 record when Troy comes to town on October 21st.

The Floor Is Rising

Coastal Carolina, New Mexico State, and ULM all entered the season expected to finish at the bottom of the league. Each program entered week one as dogs and clearly outperformed expectations.

Coastal, in their first ever FBS game, rocked UMass at Brooks Stadium with a 38-28 victory. In interim head coach Jamey Chadwell’s debut, the Chants ran wild for 321 yards as senior Osharmar Abercrombie put on a show. The senior from Greenwood, South Carolina recorded 149 yards on 17 carries and punched in for six twice. The schedule is there for a potential 5-0 start.

New Mexico State went to Tempe on Thursday night to take on Arizona State and took Todd Graham’s club right down to the wire. Jason Huntley emerged as a big playmaker as he recorded 84 rushing yards on five carries and had five receptions for 44 yards to go with two total touchdowns. NMSU put up 549 yards of total offense and could be a force in the air all season after Tyler Rogers passed for 398 yards in the opener.

Also on Thursday night, ULM went to Memphis and put up a fight for the entire 60 minutes. Matt Viator’s club went on a 15-0 run in the fourth quarter to cut the lead to one possession. The Warhawks outgained Memphis, an offense expected to be one of the best in all of college football this season. Garrett Smith did not get the start at quarterback, but the junior received plenty of snaps and averaged 10.1 yards per pass attempt as well as going for 48 yards on the ground. However, turnovers were a problem as ULM had six fumbles in the rain and lost three of them.