Georgia State quarterback picture no more in focus

Georgia State football isn’t exactly slopping over in eras. Why, it is barely old enough to travel to the game without using a car seat.

So, let’s call this the post-Arbuckle phase. Like teething and potty training are phases.

And it got off to a predictably angst-ridden start Friday night.

“Now you’re seeing what it’s like — life without Nick Arbuckle,” the Panthers coach, Trent Miles, said following a 31-21 loss to Ball State Friday night. Replacing the best quarterback in the program’s brief history — Arbuckle was the player of the year in the Sun Belt Conference a year ago, throwing a league-record 4,368 yards — is going to be a messy chore.

Neither Plans A nor B were enough Friday night to lift Georgia State past a team it beat by a cool 12 points a season ago. But, then, as has been clearly demonstrated, this is not 2015.

Here was the quarterback question that very few were bothering to ask, what with every coach in college football treating his depth chart like a launch code.

In the run-up to the opener against Ball State, Miles had played it cagey to the absolute last moment, just like the myriad others out there who go all black ops this time of year.

No matter that the ultimate identity of the Panthers starting quarterback held relatively little intrigue for either the state of Georgia or the state of Ball. Can’t really say that the Conner Manning-or-Aaron Winchester debate ever rose above room temperature.

We can report that Miles settled on the transfer from Utah by way of California, the one with the last name that is to quarterbacks what Kennedy is to politics and DuPont is to profit.

Conner Manning, who swims in a different gene pool than the Mannings of quarterbacking fame, got the start. But he didn’t get the finish. Winchester, the redshirt freshman, was inserted in the fourth quarter, but was unable to rouse any magic.

The tale of the tape:

Manning – 21-of-32 for 163 yards, a touchdown and an interception.

Winchester – 4-of-8 for 32 yards, with his 59 rushing yards accounting for nearly 77 percent of the Panthers paltry 77 team yards on the ground.

The outcome for these two was essentially a draw, neither one rising to a level of clear alpha-quarterback status. Neither made Miles’ life one bit easier Friday night.

“There are growing pains. I still feel very confident in those two guys and what they can do. As coaches we have to do a better job in getting them to perform better,” Miles said.

“We are both very good, both very capable of leading this team,” Winchester, the local entry in this derby, a Lawrenceville teen, said. “I know we’re not pleased with our performance tonight — I know (Manning) can say the same thing. We’re not worried about the quarterback competition. That’s not our concern. Our concern is the football team. We’re a 0-1 football team now and this game got away from us.”

It was not a rousing game by many standards. Not in the seats, where only 12,000 sat just months after the Panthers had gone to their first-ever Bowl game. Not on field, where there were four turnovers (two apiece) in the first nine minutes. Not from a Georgia State defense that returned nine starters from last year and was plowed under by 325 Ball State rushing yards.

For some of that the Panthers offense was culpable, unable as it was to stay in play long enough for the defense to catch its breath.

Manning comes with a background that portends good things. The model of importing some overlooked West Coast arm is a proven one for Georgia State. That was Arbuckle’s story. You know, get some poor, unsuspecting SoCal kid to sign up and before he realizes that the nearest palm tree is 250 miles away, he has thrown for a few thousand yards and expended the last of his eligibility. Arbuckle threw for 413 yards in his first game as a Panther. Thus, the comparison begins to unravel.

Ball State was enough up on the transitional period going on in downtown Atlanta to blitz relentlessly, and that pressure was plainly effective against Manning.

“(Manning) made some good plays but some things we wish we had back (like an interception under duress). I’m not going to put the blame on Conner Manning. Conner Manning is not the reason we lost,” Miles said.

Winchester’s collegiate career began inside his own 1-yard line after an early fourth-quarter Georgia State goal-line stand, his first play a survival-mode quarterback keep. He did his best work after the game was decided and the defense was in a preventive mood, scoring the last points of the night on a 13-yard run.

“There’s still competition at the quarterback position to figure out who is going to end up being the leader. Who is going to lead our team in getting us in the right plays, making the right throws and making the right adjustments that a quarterback does,” the coach said.

Miles has miles to go in this important matter. The minor mystery of who will quarterback Georgia State is ongoing.