Taming the Panthers

When scheduling this game against the University of Houston Cougars, Georgia State football coach Bill Curry thought that Cougar QB Case Keenum would have been flinging passes in the NFL by the time his upstart second year program took the field for Saturday night's game at the Rob.

Keenum sat out most of last year on a medical redshirt but was granted a 6th year of eligibility this season, unfortunately for Curry, and led the Cougars to a dominating performance both offensively and defensively in a 56-0 victory over the Panthers.

The game plan going into the game for the Panthers was probably to shorten the game by establishing their running game early against a Cougars defense known for giving up yardage on the ground. This philosophy would also keep the ball away from Keenum and the high powered Cougars offense, which were tied for first nationally in passing yards per game at 408 entering the game, and 8th in total offense at 536 yards per. Their plan didn't work as GSU continually found itself in 3rd & longs, in which they could not convert, after the Cougars defensive line continually stuffed the Panthers on first and second down. The Panthers went "3 & out" on five of their eight first half possessions while the Coogs scored on five of their seven in running up a 35-0 lead. The Panthers were down to their third team center and alternated two QBs (Drew Little and Kelton Hill) during the game, which lead too much of their inconsistency on offense. Georgia State tried to establish a power run game which consisted of numerous QB keepers and inside runs that gained little yardage, especially in the first half. The problem with option or "single wing" football is that it doesn't work if the opposing team's defensive front seven is bigger AND more athletic than your offensive line.

The Cougars defense tallied six tackles for loss (TFL) and two sacks leading to twenty four yards lost for GSU, whom rushed for only 102 yards on 35 carries. Will linebacker Sammy Brown led the way for the Cougars defensive front once again with two TFL, adding to his NCAA leading 9.5. This after finishing tied for eleventh last season with 19.5. He finished with seven tackles total and is playing much more consistently this season, as he is being used more than just a "rush" backer in the Cougars complicated 3-4 scheme. Fellow linebacker Derrick Mathews continues his sizzling play on the young season as he finished with nine total tackles in the game including 2 TFL. The true freshman was all over the field as were many of his teammates as they were "laying the wood" all night in accomplishing the team's first shut out in twelve years. Defensive team captain Marcus McGraw had another expected solid night as he gathered his first interception of the season on a batted pass by corner back Zach McMillan. McGraw had only two tackles but he had a pass breakup and a QB hurry among his numerous blitzes negatively affecting the Panthers offense. Strong safety Colton Valencia also had seven tackles and was in on several jarring hits on unsuspecting Panther athletes. Head coach Kevin Sumlin was pleased with the defensive performance and obviously the team wanted the shut out. Many of the 1st team defense was in the game with a mixture of 2nd and 3rd teamers in the fourth quarter. McGraw was even quoted as saying he was put back in before his interception when Georgia State drove to inside the Cougars ten yard line during the fourth.

Offensively, the Cougars finished the game with 732 total yards with 390 in the first half while holding GSU to 241, 89 in the first half. Ridiculous stat of the night: Cougars total offense in the 1st quarter – 208. Georgia State – 36. Keenum, who finished the game three possessions into the third quarter, completed 29 of 34 passes for 415 yards and 2 TDs. He passed former BYU great Ty Detmer for 3rd on the NCAA all time passing yardage list at 15,120 yards. He's only 1,953 yards shy of catching former Hawaii QB Timmy Chan's record of 17,072. He now has 29 career 300 yard passing games and 14 games of passing for 400 or more. Saturday night's game was also his 30th of tossing at least two touchdown passes.

The running game was also kicked into high gear as the team rushed for 171 yards on 33 carries. Bryce "Brick" Beall hammered the interior of the smaller Panther defensive line for 64 yards on just 7 carries and also had two touchdowns rushing. Michael Hayes contributed 58 yards on 9 carries and Charles Sims concluded the Cougars three pronged running back attack with 29 yards on 7 carries. Each also ran for a touchdown. All three were once again lethal in the passing game via screen and swing passes as they combined for 67 yards on 6 receptions in keeping GSU linebackers honest. I loved the continued use of the diamond formations, especially inside of the red zone. In certain diamond formations, offensive guard Bryce Redman would line us besides Keenum and use all 290 of his pounds as a blocking back for whoever would get the carry, usually strolling into the end zone. The Cougars offensive game plan was to wear down the Panthers defense by spreading them out and making them chase the more athletic Cougars receivers and backs all over the field, only then to pound them into submission via their power ground game with many power iso formations out of the shotgun.

Special team also had a nice game overall. Jordan Mannisto, whom I have rarely mentioned in my writings, showed off his strong leg multiple times with several strong booming kickoffs and the kickoff coverage team was great as Georgia State rarely returned the ball past their own twenty yard line, in stark contrast to the previous two games against North Texas and Louisiana Tech in which opposing returners gave the Mean Green and Bulldogs great starting field position. Kent Brooks returned kickoffs for Patrick Edwards and was shaky at best, once falling backwards on a fair catch and once almost fumbling the catch. He didn't seem to know when to signal for a fair catch or just let the ball bounce several times. This continues to be a problem for the Cougars.

The Good: The team getting off to a fast start on both offense and defense. Keenum came out playing "pitch and catch" with his receivers, spreading the wealth as six different receivers caught balls in the 1st quarter alone. Slot receiver Justin Johnson continues his early great play as he caught 6 passes for 83 yards and 2 TDs on simple slant routes. Tyron Carrier and Patrick Edwards continued their workman like seasons with 5 and 4 receptions for 90 and 76 yard respectively. Dewayne Peace played more than usual and had 6 receptions for 66 yards, with many of them coming early in the 1st half, surprising the Panthers defensive backs. Ronnie Williams, Mark Roberts, Daniel Spencer and Darian Lazard also played extensively in the 2nd half with QB Cotton Turner. The redshirt senior led the Cougars offense to two long touchdown drives in his three possessions and looked in command running the offense, although he did lead running back Braxton Welford into a vicious hit and almost had him leveled before that on another pass. Before being shaken up, Welford also had a nice game toting the rock as he had 18 yards on 4 carries including one touchdown. Randall Hollimon came in after Welford's injury and had 20 yards on 4 carries himself. QB Crawford Jones finished up and completed one of two passes for 18 yards.

The Bad: There isn't too much one can complain about in a 59-0 victory, but I'm sure Coach Sumlin and his staff will see the penalties, turnovers and lethargic play-especially in the 2nd half, and want the team to clean those areas up. Those areas can cost you games in conference play. Two of the aforementioned penalties were on offensive linemen veterans; starting left tackle Jacolby Ashworth and center Chris Thompson for false starts which are simple and inexcusable mistakes. Edward had another turnover, this time on a reception. His previous turnover had been on a muffed punt, which was why Brooks was returning them for this game.

The Ugly: Georgia State's lack of composure on many late hits, especially on Keenum. Coach Curry was not happy with his team's lack of poise and said that's not the way he and his staff teach his players how to play the game. The only good thing out of this game for GSU was the three hundred thousand dollar pay day they received for this whipping.

The competition gets much tougher now, and with a quick turnaround, as the Cougars begin Conference USA play this Thursday at the historic Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas against the UTEP Miners. The game beings at 7pm (CST) and will be broadcast nationally on CBS College Sports.

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