Perhaps Georgia State took “Sunglasses at night” too literally and wore them during Saturday’s game against Texas-San Antonio.
How else to explain four turnovers, a porous defense the resurrection of special teams miscues and an altogether uninspired performance in front of an uninspiring crowd of 11,496 that watched the Panthers fall 38-14. The game, the first Saturday night affair at the Georgia Dome in school history, had the makings to be a fun matchup between two programs making the transition to FBS. Georgia State used the song “Sunglasses at Night,” made famous by Corey Hart in 1984, as a theme for the week. Promotions included a giveaway of said items and a video of coach Bill Curry rocking a pair of the blue sun-barriers and lip-synching the song.
It may be a good thing you couldn’t read Curry’s lips during Saturday’s game. Afterward, he sounded a familiar refrain.
“As I’ve said repeatedly we have a gutty bunch, but we aren’t doing what you have to do, needless to say,” he said. “We fight, scratch, but that’s not enough. We will continue. The players are responding, the players are giving effort.”
The teams played a close game last year, with the Roadrunners prevailing 17-14 in overtime. But while that program seems to have taken a step forward in its second year, the Panthers (0-3) seem to be going backward in their third.
“We know the potential that’s there on the field,” athletic director Cheryl Levick said after talking with Curry for five minutes after his press conference. “Our frustration lies in he fact that the potential is there, the players have worked so hard, that we can’t see it convert to success on the field. We are looking at everything we are doing, both on and off the field, to provide the support and the necessities that we need to be successful.”
All aspects of the team failed to produce against the UTSA.
The offense, which had scored one touchdown in the previous two games, could do next to nothing after the longest pass play in school history – an 84-yard scoring bomb from Ben McLane to Albert Wilson – gave them a 7-3 lead. McLane was eventually benched with an injury but not before two more fumbles — his seventh and eighth in the past six quarters — for Ronnie Bell, the fifth quarterback the team has used in its past 14 games.
“It would be great to have consistency at that spot but something intrudes every time we think we have the guy,” Curry said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
The defense, playing without starting defensive tackle David Huey, who is out for the season with an injured hand, was hammered for more than 400 yards. They had a hard time making plays against quarterback Eric Soza, who passed for 206 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 51 yards. The Roadrunners converted seven of their 12 third downs.
“There was no lack of effort,” Curry said. “There was execution by the other team that was very good. There were cases were we had the guy covered and simply didn’t make the play. That’s another thing that’s happened repeatedly this year. These are guys who have made plays ever since they’ve got here. They’ve got to return to doing that.”
The special teams, which had shown improvement, had a long field goal partially blocked, allowed an 84-yard kickoff return and inadvertently downed a punt before it stopped rolling. In short, many of the same errors that plagued the team throughout last season, contributing to their 3-8 record.
“Those things have to be buttoned up,” Curry said.
Trailing 3-0, Georgia State took a brief lead with the strike to Wilson, who was yards ahead of his defender, on the Panthers’ opening possession.
The lead didn’t last long.
Evans Okotcha scored from 5 yards away a few plays after Kenny Harrison’s long return to give UTSA a 10-7 lead with 8:01 remaining. The drive was helped by an offisdes penalty on Joe Lockley that turned third and nine at the 15 into a manageable third and four at the 11. Soza picked it up by scrambling for seven yards.
The Roadrunners increased the lead to 17-7 on a 5-yard pass from Soza to Aaron Grubb, who outjumped a Panthers defender in the corner. The drive started when a member of the Panthers’ punt coverage team didn’t pay attention to the ball, letting it hit him on the 49-yard line.
The Panthers’ special teams miscues continued when Christian Benvenuto’s 43-yard field-goal attempt was partially blocked later in the second quarter.
The Roadrunners took advantage by driving 84 yards to take a 24-7 lead on a 1-yard run by Okotcha.
McLane was sacked for a nine-yard loss on the next possession and appeared to favor his left arm. Bell, who transferred from Ohio during the offseason, came on for his first action of his career, but he couldn’t get the offensive moving on his two plays before McLane came back on the next possession.
However, McLane didn’t tell the coaching staff that his left arm was numb and that he couldn’t close his hand.
Not knowing that, the coaches called a double-pass on the next possession. McLane threw a lateral to Parris Lee, who ran for a few yards before turning and lateraling the ball back across the field to McLane, who couldn’t make the catch because of his injured hand. He managed to pick up the ball, but was tackled for a 27-yard loss. Instead of a touchdown to Emmanuel Ogbuehi, who was running open down the field, which would have cut the score to 24-14, the Panthers went into halftime looking for answers.
The team got a spark from Bell, who threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to Wilson in the third quarter. He also threw two interceptions. Offensive coordinator John Bond said if McLane is cleared to play he will start next Saturday’s game against Richmond at the Georgia Dome.
“We have to eliminate the mistakes that are plaguing us and believe in ourselves,” Curry said. “That’s easy to talk about, but tough to do. These are things I’ve said repeatedly and I know that, but there’s nothing else to say. We will continue to work until we make this a good football team. We have the makings of a good football team.”
– Doug Roberson, AJC. Please follow me on twitter @ajcgsu