Taz Bateman is healthy and has retaken his spot in the Panthers’ backfield. But he and his teammates will need a valiant effort if Georgia State is going to win at Penn State on Saturday.
It has been a trying two seasons for Bateman. Since transferring from Long Beach (Calif.) City College, injuries have neutralized his otherwise electric offensive ability. A junior, Bateman tore his ACL on the first day of camp in 2016, and missed six games the previous season with a broken arm.
Bateman sat out spring practice, so the new coaches got a late look at him. He made an effective first impression, and will be a key piece of Shawn Elliott’s offense, both on the ground and in the air.
“I’ve just been trying to dominate,” Bateman said. “I’ve just been trying to win. That’s all we’re trying to do. That’s been our mindset. So when I came back, when I was training, when I was out a couple games, I’m just trying to get on the right track so we can get this thing rolling.”
Panthers offensive coordinator Travis Trickett has maintained the past is irrelevant to this team. He didn’t have much recent film to study on Bateman, but the expectations were still high.
“I go off what guys do for us right now,” Trickett said. “I watched last year’s tape a little bit just to get an idea of what they had done. But Taz doesn’t play last year, and we didn’t see him in spring, so he was a mystery. We didn’t know. But we expected him to come out and be productive.”
Bateman and his teammates got off to a bad start. They were stuffed, swatted and beaten down in a 17-10 loss to Tennessee State in their home opener.
The rushing attack was obsolete. Bateman was held to 27 yards on 12 carries. But his return was evident in the passing game, where he hauled in a team-best six catches and 74 yards.
“I’m just trying to do whatever it takes to win,” Bateman said. “I think our effort was there from everybody on offense. We’re just trying to get everything right on assignments, stuff like that.”
Trickett assures it won’t be the last time Bateman is relied upon heavily through the air.
“It’s just how it works out,” Trickett said. “Sometimes there’s runs with him called. Sometimes there’s a pass. It depends on how the play works out. He’s a guy that can run the ball as good as anybody and can catch it. We’re going to take advantage of really everything that he can do.”
Up next, Bateman and his offense take on the No. 5-ranked Nittany Lions. The Panthers are a 38 1/2-point underdog, but after giving Wisconsin all it could handle in a 23-17 loss a season ago, the Panthers feel they’re capable of another surprise showing.
“It’s a great opportunity,” Trickett said. “You get an opportunity to play – everyone grew up watching college football, I grew up in it, these kids grew up watching it – this is the arenas that you want to play in. This is the opportunity that you ask for and you can go back and remember.
“But it’s Game 2 (in) a 12-, hopefully 13- or 14-game season. We have to go out there and get better, and not make too much of it. I wouldn’t make it bigger than what it is.”
Bateman is more excited than intimidated for the matchup, he said. Then again, he isn’t tasked with stopping Heisman Trophy candidate running back Saquon Barkley. But the thought of directly opposing a Big Ten defense is firmly on his mind.
“More exciting than intimidating,” Bateman said. “I don’t think I fear too much. But it’s just football, man. We just have to go out there and do our assignment and we’ll be fine.”