The Panthers held their first spring game at Georgia State Stadium on Saturday, with Blue defeating White 59-35.
“It was a very entertaining game,” coach Shawn Elliott said. “A lot of good catches. Offense moved the ball quite well up and down the field. They played with great effort, came out of it healthy, clean.”
Here are five observations from the game:
1. The quarterback competition took off, with junior Aaron Winchester, redshirt freshman Jack Walker and junior transfer Dan Ellington competing for the starting job. Senior Jaquez Parks missed the game with an injury.
Elliott has a front-runner, but he’s not naming names.
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“Certainly, there’s a front-runner there, but I’m not going to – it takes more than 15 days to let that thing work itself out,” he said. “Leadership dictates a lot of it. Then we’re going to go into fall camp, and when we get 29 practice opportunities before our first game, we’ll know. The separation will be very evident.”
Ellington appeared the most polished, comfortably navigating the pocket and reading the field. Winchester proved the best athlete, while Walker had the best arm. As the day went on, the youngest of the bunch showed his upside when his accuracy caught up to his arm strength.
“You want competition,” Ellington said. “I think competition is really what’s best for you. That’s when your best game comes out. Everybody, we’re all doing a really good job in the quarterback room.”
2. The defense had its moments. The secondary, especially, was worth watching given the losses of several leaders, including B.J. Clay and Chandon Sullivan.
Chris Bacon made a great play on the ball to prevent an almost-touchdown in the red zone. Defensive end Terry Thomas blew up the offensive line on multiple occasions, with one instance forcing a fourth-and-goal and another allowing Hardick Willis to collect a sack.
“We’re a lot farther along than we were last year,” reshirt freshman safety Jaylon Jones said. “A lot of guys stepping up, some players got hurt so we had to fill roles, starters. Everyone showed up pretty good.”
3. The Panthers might have an embarrassment of riches at skill positions, and that’s excluding star receiver Penny Hart, who didn’t play Saturday.
Sophomore 5-foot-7 receiver Terrance Dixon flashed. Redshirt freshman Camryn Johnson caught a pass over Tyler Gore at the sideline and bulldozed through him for a score. Tamir Jones had a toe-tapping touchdown in the corner of the end zone.
Tight ends Camrin Knight and Ari Werts were both exceptional, each making acrobatic catches and appearing nightmares to guard inside the 20-yard line. Roger Carter made snagged a ball in traffic that most wouldn’t have expected the 6-2, 250 pound tight end to grab.
“That’s one of the reasons why I came here,” Ellington said. “I knew I was going to have some really good weapons. We have some really good weapons this upcoming year.”
4. Glenn Smith’s departure leaves snaps in GSU’s backfield that will be difficult to replace. But Saturday showed they’ll have options.
Sophomore Darius Stubbs broke two long runs and punished defenders at the point of attack. Demarcus Kirk’s aptitude of making people miss stood out, along with his pass-catching ability.
Stubbs doesn’t quite have the breakaway speed of Smith, but his pairing with Taz Bateman could make for a complementary group. Kirk looked like a valuable third-down back.
5. Elliott might get creative with all the offensive pieces at his control. The team ran a couple of reverses and didn’t shy away from splitting its quarterbacks out wide, including one play Ellington said was named after former Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield, a salute to his touchdown catch in last season’s Rose Bowl.
“One of the things about the spring game, I want to be a little entertaining, keep the crowd in it,” Elliott said. “Keep the juices flowing. That’s what we tried to do.”