One of the reasons for the demise of Georgia State’s football team this season – off to an 0-3 start and outscored by 89 points — can be traced back to March 10, 2011.
Some 18 months before this season started, coach Bill Curry announced that quarterback Drew Little, who started every game during the Panthers’ inaugural season, would be suspended for the first four games of the 2011 season for violating a team rule.
From that day to Saturday’s demoralizing 38-14 loss to Texas-San Antonio, Curry has used five different quarterbacks, including Little whose punishment was reduced, because of suspension, injuries or ineffectiveness. The team has lost 11 of those 14 games as it prepares to host Richmond on Saturday. The offense has struggled, which has affected the other units. A portion of the fan base has become discouraged. The Panthers have watched other start-up programs like UTSA’s or Old Dominion’s start to gain traction, while theirs seems stuck in place.
Of course, it’s hard to build a program that will move to football’s highest level next year when the most important piece of the puzzle keeps changing.
“It’s incredibly difficult but if you have to do it, you have to do it,” Curry said. “It would be great to have consistency at that spot but something intrudes every time we think we have found the right guy. There’s an injury or a personal situation. I’ve never seen anything like it. But it’s a fact.”
With Little starting every game in 2010, the Panthers went 6-5 against what most would consider a soft schedule, averaging 27.5 points and 327.5 yards per game. Little completed 60 percent of his passes for more than 2,100 yards with 18 touchdowns. He left the team last year having already lost his starting spot.
Since then, as the quarterback carousel has spun, the offense hasn’t been as productive, averaging 20.1 points and 334.7 yards per game.
Last year, Little, Bo Schlechter and Kelton Hill combined to complete an average of 50 percent of their passes for 2,039 yards with 16 touchdowns.
This year, the offense has gotten worse. Redshirt freshman quarterback Ben McLane, who has taken most of the snaps, is completing 44.3 percent of their passes for 118.7 yards per game with a touchdowns. McLane and backup Ronnie Bell, who passed for 95 yards and a touchdown against the Roadrunners, are playing for the first time in their careers. The offense has scored three touchdowns and has yet to produce more than 307 yards in three games.
“We’re still just a bunch of puppies in a lot of areas, and sometimes when you are puppies in certain areas it’s not so good,” offensive coordinator John Bond said.
Bond has tried to establish McLane as the definitive starter this year, going so far as to agree to move Hill, who started five games last year, to another position. But McLane has struggled. Very accurate in practice, he is completing 44.3 percent of his passes and has fumbled eight times in the previous two games. It’s not all McLane’s fault. He has had several passes dropped and has tried to be a leader by playing through injuries. But the offense isn’t trending up.
“Whether it’s the pros or pop warner, if you don’t have one of those guys show can give consistency at the position, in football in this modern time with all the things you see, it’s hard to be a good football team until you get that position solidified,” Bond said.
To try to gain that necessary traction, Bond said McLane will continue to start.
“In order to get a guy, you’ve got let a guy play,” Bond said.
McLane said he feels he is “extremely close” to being able to apply everything he’s learning into games.
“I like how I’ve progressed,” McLane said. “If I can keep progressing more I can put us in position to win some games.”
The offense’s ineffectiveness is affecting the other units. The defense, which was already trying to learn a new system, is on the field for an average of 34 minutes, 17 seconds and 76 plays per game.
“It affects the confidence of a team that’s trying to grow,” Curry said. “If the team knows the quarterback can take you down the field and score that has big impact on the way that everybody plays. You don’t want to have one unit relying on another unit, but you can’t help but think if we can just get this ball back we know our quarterback can take us down the field and score.”
Linebacker Mark Hogan said the defense doesn’t discuss what’s going on with the offense.
“It doesn’t matter who we trot out there on offense, we have to worry about what we are doing,” he said.
Curry said McLane and Bell have shown that potential, they just need to be able to play consistently to get the necessary experience.
“But that’s life, we will get through it,” Curry said. “We want Georgia State to have a really good football team and we hope that will be this week.”
– Doug Roberson, AJC. Please follow me on twitter @ajcgsu