The Georgia State Panthers fell just short of knocking off the 9th ranked Wisconsin Badgers in Madison, Wisconsin on Saturday. As Head Coach Trent Miles stated after the game, “There are no moral victories for GSU,” but for a team that had shown few signs of growth in the first two games, the loss to Wisconsin did encourage a few signs of optimism.
For one, the Panther’s offense started to click in the second half with quarterback Connor Manning looking much more comfortable and decisive. The Utah transfer was able to spread the ball around and find key playmakers such as senior wide receivers Robert Davis and junior Glenn Smith. Each made big plays in the second half, which kept the Panthers close to the Badgers and even helped them to take a lead early in the 4th quarter. Davis made a spectacular, twisting touchdown grab in the third quarter, which got the Panthers within 3. Glenn Smith turned a few short routes into big plays using his speed to get past defenders in the secondary. As Manning found a rhythm with his receivers, a few holes opened up in the running game and the Panthers were able to find some offensive balance which was lacking in the first 10 quarters of the season.
Perhaps the most excited group to see the Panthers offense find a groove was the GSU defense. The defensive unit has shown that they are a talented group in the first two games, but they have been on the field for far too long and because of fatigue have given up a lot of points late in games. However, on Saturday they were given a balanced matchup and fought hard every down, coming up with key plays throughout the game. The defense was able to jar a ball loose from Wisconsin running back, Bradrick Shaw, midway through the 2nd quarter which ended a Badgers drive that was deep into the GSU red zone. Talented cornerback Chandon Sullivan also intercepted Badger freshman QB, Alex Hornibrook*, in the third quarter to thwart a drive in which Wisconsin was gaining some offensive momentum.
(*Hornibrook entered the game in the second half to replace starter, Bart Houston, who was unable to get anything going against the GSU secondary.)
With all of the positive plays that went in GSU’s favor, it just wasn’t quite enough. The Panthers got the ball late in the fourth quarter, down six, with a chance to put together a game winning drive. However, the Wisconsin defense was able to lock down on three straight pass attempts by the Panthers and force a punt. After giving the ball back to the Badgers, GSU was unable to force a stop and the Badgers ran out the clock.
For a football program which has only been playing FBS football for three years, a win on Saturday would have obviously been monumental. Nevertheless, Saturday’s game proved that the Panthers can compete for 60 minutes against one of the top programs in the country. Their performance should give the group from Atlanta some sort of momentum heading into conference play on October 1 at Appalachian State. App State is favored by most to win the Sun Belt Title, but is coming off of a disappointing blowout loss against the Miami Hurricanes on Saturday (Miami is coached by former UGA coach, Mark Richt). Boone is historically a tough place for opposing teams, so GSU will need to continue the improvements they showed against Wisconsin in order to return to Atlanta with a victory.
Before the conference matchup against App State, the Panthers will have a much needed bye week to get healthy and make necessary adjustments. GSU was missing a handful of key starters against Wisconsin, including three guys on the defensive line as well as star wide-out Penny Hart, and the absence of those key players makes it easy to think what might have been. The Panthers do expect to have a few of those guys back, including Hart, in two weeks time.
Be sure to follow the GSU Football team on Twitter and Facebook: @GSUFootball, and visit http://www.georgiastatesports.com/ for more information about all GSU Athletics. (All GSU football games can be heard on 1340 AM, and conference games can be viewed on ESPN3.)
Georgia State will return home to the Georgia Dome on October 8 to face conference opponent Texas State.