This was to be the year the Panthers took the next step in the right direction. The year where they go from, in Head Coach Trent Miles own words, learning how to compete last season to learning how to win this season. There was a bit of excitement and anticipation around the program as the countdown to the Panthers season wound to zero with high hopes of a drastic turnaround from a 1-11 season in 2014. I myself saw the potential for the Panthers to see a 4-5 win season.
What did we learn about the Panthers after game 1? Unfortunately, I think the consensus is that we all left the Georgia Dome with more questions than answers.
Did the Offense take a step back?
For three quarters of the game, Georgia State averaged about 19 yards per drive after the first 12 drives and only converted 3 of 15 third downs.
“We didn’t execute like we are supposed to,” said Panther QB Nick Arbuckle who was 25 of 43 for 299 yards passing with 1 interception. “We had a good game plan but we just didn’t come out and execute like we did in practice.”
One reason for the lack of production could be due to the absence of WR Donovan Harden and TE Joel Ruiz. “We don’t make excuses and we don’t believe in any kind drop offs,” notes Arbuckle on the teams next man up mentality.
You may have noticed that Arbuckle and the Panthers are going deeper and stretching the field more this season. “That’s something we want to work more on. We have what we believe to be the most athletic and best receiving corps in the conference and we want to utilize those guys going down the field.”
Due to less than stellar play by the offensive line, the running game could never really get going totaling only 93 yards on 26 attempts. Taz Bateman pounded out 61 of those yards and hauled in a 24 yard pass from Arbuckle for one of the only two touchdowns in the fourth quarter.
“Offensively we need to do better. Coaching we need to do better,” says GSU Head Coach Trent Miles adding ““We need to do a better job in putting our players in a position to succeed.”
What did the Panthers learn about their Defense?
“Learned that we have the ability to play good defense,” Miles said. The one shining light that this team can be proud of is the how well the defense played. “When a defense in this day and age holds a team to 23 points, 3 in the second half that’s good enough to win,” says Miles.
Safety Bobby Baker, a transfer from UAB, led the way for an outstanding defensive performance with three recovered fumbles, a school record, and two interceptions.
“We came out real fired up. We knew that we were going to be facing adversity. We knew that there would be things that was going to try to bring us down. We were prepared for that,” Baker said. Baker knows there is plenty of room for improvement but you could tell that they were proud of how well they performed in their first game and they should be.
The biggest question now is how will this loss effect the psyche of the team and how will they respond in their first conference game of the season at New Mexico State?
“Frustrated, but at the same time determined. We know we are going to change things and turn things around. It’s disappointing,” said Arbuckle. “Really disappointing to lose the first game because we were so excited to make a big statement this season. We know now that we have to learn from it.”
Even when things were not going their way, this team never showed any signs of giving up. They never stopped fighting. That is something that should give fans some hope that better things could be on the way, but they will never get over the hump if they don’t learn how to win and learn fast.
Woody Bass covers the Georgia State Panthers and college football and can be found on Twitter as @WoodyBass.