Earning the first win of the season may have been the easy part for Georgia State’s football team.
Now, coach Bill Curry wants to see how the team responds when it hosts Villanova on Saturday, a team that will provide a much tougher test than Rhode Island did in last week’s 41-7 victory.
“It’s true we did some things better Saturday,” Curry said. “It started well and things that started our way kept going our way.
“This week is a lot more important as a test of how much we’ve learned.”
The Panthers were taught many lessons during their six-game season-opening losing streak. Notably, they can’t turn over the ball and must make plays on defense, which will be a challenge on Saturday.
The Wildcats open up running lanes so wide they would make any Atlanta driver stuck on I-285 green with envy. Led by quarterback John Robertson, whom Curry described as a quicker Tim Tebow, Villanova averages almost 260 rushing yards per game.
Aside from the fact the Panthers have the worst rush defense (212.7 yards per game) in the Colonial Athletic Association, and may be playing without several members of the first- and second-string on the defensive line because of injuries, Curry has another reason for concern.
He knows, based upon the Wildcats’ victory over Old Dominion last week, that if his team gets ahead, Villanova won’t fold.
Curry rattled off the first few possessions in Villanova’s game last week. The Monarchs jumped to a 14-0 lead. The Wildcats didn’t panic. They answered with a long drive that resulted in a missed field goal. They still didn’t panic. The final score: Villanova 38, ODU 14.
“That’s the next step for us, to respond to adversity the way you have to,” Curry said.
Will his team stay focused if something bad happens?
His players seem to know what they haven’t done, and what they need to do.
“ … That’s one of the things that we’ve had a problem with in the past: starting fast and finishing fast,” tackle Grant King, a junior, said. “This week, the key point is to keep the foot on the gas the whole time.”
Linebacker Joe Peterson, a freshman who hasn’t experienced as much at Georgia State as King, said the players are starting to apply the lessons the coaches have been teaching them.
“Coach tells us to run to every drill because that gets our speed up to play faster,” he said. “When we play faster we come out and play faster and jump on the guys. That’s what we are going to try to do against Villanova, jump on them as soon as we can, score as soon as we can, do what we have to do.”
It won’t be easy.
Georgia State’s defensive line is beat up and could be missing several starters and backups to injuries, causing defensive coordinator Anthony Midget to dig deep into the depth chart to find enough healthy players to man the line.
Robertson is a beast all by himself, totaling more than 750 yards of offense in the past two games.
But Curry said playing a tough opponent a week after beating a weak one is exactly the type of experience the team needs if it is going to grow.
“It will be difficult for their players to imagine we can make this challenging for them, but we intend to,” Curry said.