The season opener for the Georgia State Panthers lived up to the hype and came down to the wire. In a 31-28 loss to the Louisiana Ragin Cajuns, it was heartbreaking if you were a Panthers fan but great to see as a fan of the Sun Belt Conference and a college football fan.
Both teams have a lot to be excited about. Conversely, there are areas Georgia State can build upon. One play is what kept these teams away and Panther head coach Shawn Elliott knew this and said it in his press conference.
Here are some key takeaways from Saturday’s game.
Good: Three runs on the Panthers second to last drive of the fourth quarter
Georgia State twitter was blowing up after the Panthers went three and out on the second to last drive of the game, tied at 28. On three plays at the Panthers own 11,, the Panthers rushed for two yards on three attempts and burned 2:08 off the clock. The main reason this is good is that the quarterback made the right read and put his team in the position to win. Here is what Elliott had to say about the play calling on that offensive series:
“A lot of our plays have run-pass options. Maybe the read was to hand it off and not to throw it. That is the scenario we play with. If it’s there, then we have the choice to run or throw it. Unfortunately, it was a handoff. [On] that second-down run, I was like ‘Do you risk it right here and try to go for it (put the ball in the air) or do you punt and play defense?’”
Elliott went on to say that he very rarely second guess himself and that it worked out for the best to give his team an opportunity to win the game.
After asking Elliott about this in the press conference and hearing him speak, it was clear that this was the best decision to make as a coach. Everything is not always perfect and does not play out like you expect it to. Worst case scenario, if redshirt freshman quarterback Cornelius Brown throws an interception in the Panthers territory, it puts the team in a less likely situation to win the game. It is great that Brown made the right decision to handoff instead of throw.
Good: Cornelius Brown
The redshirt freshman quarterback finished 22-39, 196 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. Given the circumstances of COVID-19 and the long layoff, the freshman quarterback played well and took care of the football. Besides the interception that changed the game for the Ragin Cajuns, you cannot fault Brown for much of anything this game. If anything, Panthers fans should be excited due to his high ceiling and how he was able to lead this offense.
Although the Panthers were playing a tough, 19 ranked Ragin Cajuns team, the defense gave up crucial plays and yardage in this game. 240 rushing yards and 279 passing yards is not going to help you win many games.
The specific play on defense that was a major eye-opener was the 59-yard rushing touchdown by Elijah Mitchell. Although I think the Panthers’ defense is improving and could be better this year, this play and others showed that they have ways to go.
The Panthers also were able to get one sack on Ragin Cajuns quarterback Levi Lewis who they seem to have trouble getting to for many parts of the game. They were in position to get him down but simply missed or didn’t wrap up. The lone sack came on the Ragin Cajuns fourth down attempt in which Panthers defensive ends Jeffery Clark and Hardrick Willis got the credit for.
The defense was not horrible but certain plays could have been avoided. Elliott feels strong about this defense and believes they will continue to get better.
Good: Destin Coates and the Panthers running attack
Junior running back Destin Coates finished the game with 34 carries, 150 yards, and a touchdown. Elliott was impressed with his play and believes he could have had more.
Last season, Elliott and the Panthers were finally able to see the fruits of their hard labor setting school rushing records and being able to control the ball on the ground. As an offensive line coach, Elliott understands the importance of a running game.
“I like running the football, I like controlling the line of scrimmage. I think good football teams do that and I am going to continue to try to do that as long as I’m the head football coach here.”
The Panthers finished with 223 rushing yards.
Overall, the Panthers do not have much to be down about. It took overtime and few plays for the Ragin Cajuns to get a hard-fought win. Things could have been better on both sides of the football but Louisiana is a great football team. This is also the first game of the season and although players and coaches want to win, the mentality the Panthers have, and that they will get better.