Georgia State has yet to sack the quarterback this season, an eight-quarter stretch of frustration that surprises coaches and players.
Georgia State is also allowing an average of 337 passing yards per game.
The two are directly related. When the line gets to the quarterback, the secondary usually doesn’t have to cover as long. When the secondary covers well, the line usually has more time to get to the quarterback.
“All sacks are a function of all 11,” Georgia State coach Bill Curry said. “Most breakdowns are a function of all 11. We’ve got to do a better job of all of them.”
A combination of inexperience, strategy and the opponent’s plan and skill have prevented Georgia State from getting to the quarterback, according to defensive coordinator Anthony Midget. Surprisingly poor play from experienced players are affecting the secondary.
As one goes, so does the other.
“It does go hand in hand,” Midget said.
But he said just because the line isn’t getting sacks and the secondary isn’t making plays, means they won’t.
Midget said they are making a few changes to improve the pass rush that he declined to go into other than to say the line will play faster in this week’s game against Texas-San Antonio, which features athletic quarterback Eric Soza running a varied offense that includes some option and some pro-style attack.
“It’s my job to get that going,” he said. “I promise you will see a better outcome this week.”
The line has come close to making plays this year. Though they don’t have any sacks, they have 10 pressures, which means a defender made the quarterback throw or move before he was ready. Midget said they showed a lot of improvement in effort in last week’s 51-13 loss to Tennessee compared to the 33-6 loss in the season-opening game against South Carolina State, even if it didn’t show in the stats.
“If we continue to improve we will be a lot better,” he said.
Though football is a “no excuses” sports, there are reasons that line has struggled.
In addition to the learning curve that comes with installing a 4-2-5 scheme, which has different in reads and responsibilities for the linemen than last year’s 3-4 strategy, the line has had to overcome a lack of familiarity and chemistry.
The group features four players, none of whom played together as starters last year. End Theo Agnew transferred from Massachusetts. End John Kelly sat out last year after transferring from Nevada. Nose tackle Terrance Woodard started five games last year. Tackle David Huey redshirted last year. The backups feature two true freshmen, a redshirt freshman and a redshirt sophomore.
“The more that we work and the more that we work together the more chemistry we will have and the more successful we will be,” Agnew said.
Neither the line nor the secondary has been helped by the fact the defense hasn’t forced many obvious passing situations. As a result, Tennessee and South Carolina State effectively used play-action to keep Georgia State’s defense on its heels, which has resulted in four scoring passes of at least 20 yards this year.
Agnew said they are often just a half-second away from making a play.
“That half-second, boom there’s no long pass, there’s no touchdown, there’s no big thing to hurt us,” he said.
Though that half-second has required the secondary to stay in coverage just a bit longer, the players have been in position to make plays, they just haven’t made enough, such as the two touchdowns in the first half against South Carolina State. Both times the player was there, both times they failed to break up the pass. Against Tennessee, a defensive back made two mistakes, each of which resulted in a touchdown. Opponents are averaging 16.4 yards per reception.
Unlike the front seven, which had to replace six starters lost to graduation or eligibility, the secondary returned three of its four starters, many of whom held up well last year when the pass rush was also weak.
“We have the guys in here to make the plays, they just have to go play with the confidence to know they can,” Midget said.
The defense’s job won’t be easy this week. Texas-San Antonio, like South Carolina State, features a quarterback who can run or throw. South Carolina State’s Richard Cue passed for 300 yards and ran for 47 in the season-opening 33-6 win against the Panthers. Soza is averaging 187 yards passing and 26.5 rushing.
Cornerback Brent McClendon, who has one of the Panthers’ three interceptions, said playing a dual-threat quarterback can be more difficult than facing one who likes to throw because once he starts running around, the receivers break off patterns and run randomly.
But Midget seems confident that plays will soon be made by the line and defensive backs.
“We are building,” Midget said. “We need this game to come out and get a victory. I want it bad for the players because I know what kind of camp they’ve had. I’m looking for them to really have a good game this weekend.”