Georgia State may have won only two of its 12 games last season, but as spring arrives and the new season begins, the record comes with a silver lining.
The Panthers still played 12 games. When you return 10 of 11 starters on offense, that much experience, regardless of the previous outcomes, can lead to better things on offense.
“The most experienced teams are the most successful teams,” coach Shawn Elliott said. “It’s not so much that these guys are juniors and seniors. These guys have played meaningful snaps and meaningful ballgames.”
The leading man for the Panthers is quarterback Dan Ellington. Last season, he topped the team in passing (2,119) and rushing (625) yards, combining for 17 total touchdowns in a campaign that earned him an honorable mention on the all-Sun Belt team. He is entering his second and final season of eligibility with GSU after transferring from a junior college.
“The second year is going to be really special for him,” Elliott said. “He has the opportunity to do a lot of good things. The intelligence, the quicker decisions are going to help him, but he’s right on track to be a special player for us.”
Ellington said that his biggest goal is to improve his efficiency from last season, when he completed 59.6 percent of his passes.
He’ll be joined in the backfield by senior Tra Barnett, the returning first-string tailback who averaged over 50 yards rushing per game last season.
Another piece that lends stability to the Panthers’ offense is the history of new offensive coordinator Brad Glenn. Because he worked on the same offensive staff with Elliott when they were both at Appalachian State in the mid-2000s, the transition has allowed for GSU to add new life to the offense without a steep learning curve.
“It’s really been an easy transition, and it all stems from knowing coach Elliott and working with him,” Glenn said. “There’s a lot of familiarity as far as terminology and just being able to speak the same language. That’s the first thing you have to be able to do.”
Glenn wants to run the same system, but use Ellington more dynamically to assert pressure on opposing defenses. He said he won’t install new plays, but he may speed things up.
“I think (Ellington) enjoys the tempo. We may play a little faster than they did last year. He can just cut it loose and use his athletic ability and go from there. The quarterback is the catalyst for this style of offense,” Glenn said.
The one starter who the Panthers lost on offense was wideout Penny Hart, who as a senior last season led the team in catches (49) and yards (669) last season to go with two touchdowns. Ellington described the loss as “heartbreaking,” but has confidence in the returning receiver corps to pick up where he left off.
“It’s next guy up in that receivers room, and they’re going to take that challenge. Last year, they all looked to Penny to be that leader. All of them learned from him last year to be the type of player that he was and the type of leader that he was,” Ellington said.
The reality is that Georgia State has lots of work to do to get back to competing in the Sun Belt and gunning for bowl eligibility. But as far as the offense is concerned, the pieces are there.
The players have been through challenges that have built a wealth of experience, and that experience has become the foundation from which Elliott can help them grow.
“It’s comforting to know we can come out here on our first day of spring practice and feel like we haven’t missed a beat,” Elliott said.
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