Had a couple things I didn’t get to on Saturday, and I’ll take a brief look at the week ahead.
1. One thing I imagine coaches are discussing Monday is the team’s offensive identity. The Panthers have been more dependable throwing the ball than running it. The offense has been able to spring the occasional explosive play, like Darren McCray’s reverse, but play-to-play consistency has been elusive. Georgia State averages a healthy 5.3 yards per carry, but subtracting the team’s four longest runs – you can argue how fair that is – the average is 3.7.
This is not meant to indict the running game. As offensive line coach Mike Riddle said last week, the running game will take more time for the line to master because there are more plays and nuances to master than there are in the passing game.
The offensive identity is just one of those things that many teams, and certainly a first-year team, has to determine.
“We’re still trying to figure out, are we run-first, throw-second or throw-first, run-second,” offensive coordinator John Bond said. “Every day and every game and every week is a new experience.”
I tend to think the running game will become more consistent and effective as the year goes on, but right now with the way Drew Little is throwing the ball, I wouldn’t be surprised if Bond starts to lean on him more.
2. If Georgia State were included in NCAA statistical rankings – it’s not because it’s a first-year team – the Panthers would be 11th in pass defense at 137.5 yards per game. It’s noteworthy, although you can take a few things from it.
At the risking of sounding like Debbie Downer, a lot of that is because opponents have been too busy running at Georgia State to pass. They’ve run 196 times and thrown it just 87. The total is skewed by playing run-heavy teams like Shorter and Campbell, but clearly teams see that they can run on Georgia State. Georgia State is among the poorest teams in FCS at stopping the run thus far.
Regardless, when teams try to throw against Georgia State, they’re not having a great deal of success. (Debbie again: You could say that run-heavy teams aren’t as likely to be as effective throwing the ball, and if you saw Campbell’s passing game, I don’t think you’d disagree.) Regardless, the Panthers are giving up 5.7 yards per pass attempt, which is arguably more meaningful than yards per game and is a pretty good number. It puts them roughly in the top third of FCS. Opponents are completing 59.7 percent of their passes, which is a pretty average number for the defense.
But anyway, one thing I take from it is that any improvement defensive coordinator John Thompson can make with the run defense will have something of a multiplying effect because it will force offenses to play against the much more effective half of GSU’s defense.
The same defensive line that has had trouble closing up gaps in the line has done much better pressuring the passer, I think.
Here’s a theory on why the defense is having trouble with the run. Of the front seven, six of them are transfers (the only player recruited to Georgia State out of high school is linebacker Robert Ferguson). Some came in in the spring and some didn’t practice with the team until August.
So, while talented – tackle Christo Bilukidi and linebacker Jake Muasau are two of the best players on the team – they’re still learning the scheme and each other, which means they are likely at times unsure about their assignment, and any hesitation that results from uncertainty about assignment can be pretty damaging. I’m not saying that’s for sure what’s happening, but I’d imagine it’s part of it.
3. Morehead State. The Eagles play in the Pioneer Football League, the same as Campbell, and are 1-1. (As an aside, this is a pretty nutty conference geographically. There’s schools in California, New York, Iowa, North Carolina, Florida and Indiana and Kentucky, which is where Morehead State is.)
They throw it a bunch; their run-pass ratio is about 45/55. Quarterback Zach Lewis completes about 64.8 percent of his passes and is averaging 300 yards per game. Part of this I guess has to do with being behind a lot – Morehead State has been outscored 91-38 in the first half of games this season. Regardless, the Eagles are pretty effective with it.
So, perhaps a good challenge for the GSU pass defense.
Defensively, Morehead State is giving up 399.8 yards per game, which is eighth in its conference. The Eagles’ 6.0 yards-per-play average is last. They’ve also given up 8.6 yards per pass attempt, which is also the highest in the league.
I have no feel on the game. Morehead State is an established team – the head coach has been there 15 years – but on paper, you’d think Georgia State would have an edge. However, I think we all know that what’s on paper hasn’t gotten anyone very far this year.
4. Kudos to McCray for being named the national kickoff returner of the week in FCS by College Football Performance Awards for his 96-yard return for a touchdown on the game’s opening kick against Campbell. It was an impressive return, by McCray and his teammates. He never even got close to being touched.
Punter Bo Schlechter was named an honorable mention punter of the week for his 50-yard average on four kicks, three of which landed inside the 20-yard line.
5. In the polls – Georgia State now has two votes in the Sports Network poll (up from one last week) but lost its three points in the coaches poll. I don’t quibble with that. If you receive votes for barely losing to a top team, then you can lose them for barely beating a weaker team.
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