Georgia State close to completing a lesson

Learning how to win has been an oft-repeated phrase for Georgia State’s football team.

That the Panthers are 1-4, when a few positive plays separates them from 4-1, is an example that what coach Trent Miles and his staff are trying to teach hasn’t quite been absorbed yet as the Panthers prepare to take on Arkansas State at the Georgia Dome on Saturday.

“We’ve put ourselves into position to win and didn’t get it done,” Miles said.

Last week’s three-point loss to Louisiana-Lafayette provided three examples of what can happen to players who lose a little bit of their focus.

On the game-winning drive by the Ragin’ Cajuns, defensive coordinator Jesse Minter called what appeared to be the perfect play on third-and-4 at Georgia State’s 43-yard line. Senior outside linebacker Jarrell Robinson blitzed and had a clear line to quarterback Brooks Haack. Robinson hit him, but forgot his fundamentals and didn’t drive Haack into the ground. Haack spun out of the attempted tackle and heaved a desperation pass that Al Riles caught for a 22-yard gain.

Instead of facing a difficult a fourth-and-long, the Cajuns had a first down and scored the go-ahead touchdown a play later.

On Georgia State’s next drive, as they were attempting to at least tie the score, sophomore wide receiver Robert Davis didn’t line up on the line of scrimmage and was penalized for illegal formation. The call wiped out a 30-yard pass play to Lynquez Blair that would have moved the Panthers close to a potential field goal.

Those are the lessons in how to win that haven’t yet been learned.

Miles borrows from Gen. George Patton to explain why the errors are made.

“In the heat of battle, the mental process shut down, and the body relies on habits it has created,” Miles said. “The more habits you keep creating, the more they are going to be able to handle it as they go. They won’t make the same mistakes.”

Miles said Davis had never been flagged for not lining up correctly. But, in a crucial situation, he simply forgot to do one of the little things. Miles said he doesn’t think it will ever happen again.

The coaches create pressure-filled environments in practice to try to ingrain winning habits and reflexes. For example, there will be competitions in which one unit has to stop the other. The loser has to run.

The good news is the Panthers understand what Miles wants and are attempting to follow through. The evidence is, as in the loss to Louisiana-Lafayette, they were one drive away from winning their conference opener against New Mexico State. They were in the game against Air Force until a few bad plays ended a chance at victory.

It is a much different situation than last season, when the team finished 0-12 and often faced having to rally from large deficits because so many things were done poorly early.

“Winning comes with little things,” wide receiver Donovan Harden said. “Little things need to be done right for the big picture to mesh perfectly.”

Offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski said winning Saturday is a result of what happens Sunday-Friday. He likes what he sees from the team during the week and believes they are close to ingraining winning habits.

Miles said that some of that will happen as the players gain experience. Only three scholarship seniors started the game against the Ragin’ Cajuns. Some of it will happen as the players continue to follow through on everything the coaches demand, from going to class, to studying film, to winning competitions in practice, to improving their fundamentals and techniques so that memory is replaced by reflex in the games.

The Panthers seem close to learning those lessons. Patience when the team has won one of its past 20 games can be hard to find.

Miles said the onus is on the coaches to keep teaching the players. He thinks positive results aren’t far away.

“We are right there,” Miles said.