If this was Georgia State’s introduction to the Colonial Athletic Association football, its goodbye may not come soon enough.
Playing its first conference game, the Panthers were throttled by Richmond 35-14 on Saturday in the Georgia Dome in front of 9,476 attendees. It was the smallest crowd in the program’s three-year history, breaking the previous mark set last year against Murray State by almost 1,500.
Georgia State will face seven more opponents in the CAA before it begins playing in the Sun Belt next year. Of course, because of the vagaries of the NCAA rules as they relate to the team’s move to the FBS level, the Panthers are still technically 0-0 in the conference. But it does count in the overall record, dropping the Panthers to 0-4 this season and losers of 12 of their past 15 games.
The Panthers didn’t go down without a fight. Running back Donald Russell rushed for more than 100 yards for the third time in his GSU career, capping the day with the team’s last touchdown and 119 rushing yards and 51 receiving. Coach Bill Curry elected to go for it four times on fourth down at various points in the game, converting one, and even called an onside kicks with less than a minute remaining in the game that the Panthers recovered.
But the team was undone by too many of its own mistakes. On defense, two interceptions were dropped and a chance to recover a fumble missed. On offense, a fourth and inches was stopped. Passes were dropped.
“We had some of the most encouraging things and some of the most discouraging things because we hurt ourselves in so many ways,” Curry said.
The team’s season may have been summarized in a sequence of plays that took 40 seconds that featured big plays (made and allowed) bad luck and head-scratching mistakes.
Coming off a touchdown that cut its deficit to 21-7, Georgia State’s defense forced Richmond to punt and took over at the 30-yard line with 40 seconds remaining in the half.
Ben McLane’s first-down pass went through Emmanuel Ogbuehi’s hands and was intercepted by Cooper Taylor, giving the Spiders the ball at Georgia State’s 40 with 32 seconds left. Richmond quarterback John Laub hit Stephen Barnette down the sideline for a big play to set up first and goal at the 8-yard line. Laub followed by running for seven yards, putting the ball on the 1. However, the Panthers’ defense rebounded, stopping the Spiders on second and third down. Richmond called timeout with one second left to set up the fourth-down play, but Georgia State stopped them again, sending the Panthers’ bench into a frenzy and ending the half.
Remember the bad luck and mistakes?
The Panthers were called for offsides on the fourth-down play, giving the Spiders one more second on the clock and one more crack at scoring. Laub took advantage, pushing the pile for the 1 yard to give the Spiders a 28-7 halftime lead.
“Even after a valiant goal-line stand we gave them five downs,” Curry said.
Robert Ferguson said the defense did take some positives from that drive.
“We felt like we had momentum on our side,” he said.
Georgia State fell behind 7-0 with 7:29 left in the first quarter on a 1-yard touchdown run by Jovan Smith. The drive was helped by a personal foul against Georgia State’s Demarius Matthews. The Panthers held on first and second down at the 1 before the Spiders scored. Richmond’s offense dominated the time of possession in the quarter, controlling the ball for 12 minutes, 15 seconds.
The deficit increased to 14-0 with 13:35 left in the first half on another 1-yard touchdown run, this time by Laub.
Georgia State fell behind 21-0 after a 49-yard touchdown reception by Barnette. A Georgia State defensive back whiffed on a tackle, allowing Barnette to turn up field after the catch and outrace the rest of the secondary. The drive was set up when the Spiders took over on downs on Georgia State’s 44. The Panthers had third and 1, but McLane couldn’t pick up the first down. Curry elected to go for it on fourth and inches, but Taylor flew in from the edge and hit running back Donald Russell in the backfield, stopping him short.
“You get a chance to make a first down on fourth and this much,” Curry said, holding his hands inches part, “you’ve got to make them every time to be a good football team.”
Curry elected to go for it again on fourth and 10 at the Spiders’ 13-yard line on another drive later in the quarter, but McLane’s pass to Albert Wilson was broken up, ending the scoring chance. That four-play sequence featured four consecutive passes, two of which could have been intercepted.
The Panthers easily moved down the field again on their next possession and this time capitalized with a 16-yard scoring pass from McLane to Wilson. The score cut the Spiders’ lead to 21-7 with 1:22. Russell was responsible for most of the results on the 80-yard drive with a 52-yard run that moved Georgia State to the 28-yard line.
“We just have to make plays,” Russell said. “It’s something we will keep working on. We are definitely going to change that during our weeks of practice.”
– Doug Roberson, AJC. Please follow me on twitter @ajcgsu