What a year for Georgia State.
An underdog of more than 20 points, the Panthers knocked off rivals Georgia Southern 34-7 on Saturday in Paulson Stadium, where the Eagles had won 11 consecutive games, 29 of 31 and were 186-33, the third-best in history among FBS teams. In fact, it was Georgia Southern’s worst loss at home in program history.
It was Georgia State’s first four-game win streak since the inaugural 2010 season.
And the Panthers didn’t win because of luck. They dominated the Eagles so much that with 13 minutes left in the game the stands were emptying.
“For everything that was on the line, having lost to this team 69 to whatever it was last year, for this team to come in here and beat them,” coach Trent Miles said. “It took them 34 years to go to their first bowl. It took us six.”
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It’s another huge win for a Georgia State athletic department that is quickly notching “were you there?” moments, joining the men’s basketball team’s victory over Baylor in the second round of the NCAA tournament earlier this year.
Here are five observations about the game:
Going bowling? With their fourth consecutive win, the Panthers reached six victories and are bowl-eligible. But it’s too soon to know where they are going.
The Sun Belt has four bowl tie-ins, and the Panthers are the fourth team in the conference to reach six wins. But South Alabama also has five wins and needed to beat visiting Appalachian State late Saturday night to become bowl-eligible.
If the Jags don’t reach six wins, the Panthers seem likely to be invited to the Cure Bowl in Orlando on Dec. 19. If the Jags reach six wins, the Panthers are expected to go to the Arizona Bowl in Tucson on Dec. 29.
When Miles was interviewed by Georgia State President Mark Becker before being named coach following the 2012 season, he said Becker asked him if he could get the team to a bowl in three years.
“Dr. Becker, you got your bowl game,” Miles said.
Miles and the players said they don’t care which bowl they go to. Miles said he would go to a bowl at the North Pole if that’s who wanted them.
Arbuckle rolls. Georgia State saw the best of quarterback Nick Arbuckle in the game in which they absolutely needed him. After an early interception, the senior and school’s all-time passing leader bounced back to hit Penny Hart for a 63-yard touchdown early in the second quarter. The reception pushed Hart past 1,000 yards receiving in his first season and also tied the school record for touchdown receptions in a season (8).
Arbuckle followed that with an 18-yard touchdown pass to Robert Davis in the third quarter to give the Panthers a 13-7 lead. On the next series, the Eagles tried to blitz, and Arbuckle lobbed a pass downfield that Donovan Harden caught at the 45-yard line. Arbuckle finished that drive with a 4-yard touchdown pass to tight end Keith Rucker to take a 20-7 lead.
Arbuckle’s play in the second half, in which he passed for 216 of his 346 yards, was partially the result of Georgia Southern’s student section. When Arbuckle came out at halftime to work out with the receivers, he said some people in the student section said something about his deceased mother.
“They said the wrong thing,” he said.
That’s when Arbuckle said he knew that he was going to play well in the second half. Not only did he complete 11 of 12 passes in the half, he lined up the Panthers correctly on almost every down.With the exception of one play, the Eagles couldn’t close to him.
The defense dominates. This wasn’t the defense that the Eagles dominated in rushing for more than 600 yards in last year’s 69-31 win in the Georgia Dome. This year, the Panthers’ front seven shut down the Eagles’ vaunted rushing attack, which was averaging 375.6 yards per game. They were held to 14 yards in the first quarter and finished with a season-low 135 yards. Georgia Southern’s offense was affected by the loss of fullback Matt Breida, who left in the second quarter after being tackled near the ankle.
“The mindset was to come out here like some wild, disciplined animals,” safety Tarris Batiste said. “Just hit everything you see. If it comes you way, box it, spill it, do what you have to do. It worked out for us.”
Lack of discipline. There were six unsportsman-like conduct penalties called in the first half, including two against Georgia State cornerback Jerome Smith, which resulted in his ejection.
Two of those penalties against Georgia State, including the first against Smith, set up the Eagles with first-and-goal at the 8 in the second quarter. L.A. Ramsby scored on third-and-goal at the 1 to tie the score 7-7.
“We told them that we weren’t going to let them get anything,” linebacker Joseph Peterson said. “We kind of gave them stuff with a couple of penalties on that drive. But we continued to lock back in and did our drive.”
The Panthers weren’t the only team lacking discipline. Back-to-back offside penalties on third-and-10 against the same Georgia Southern player prolonged Georgia State’s first touchdown drive.
What a day for the seniors. Arbuckle wasn’t the only senior to play well against his team’s rival. Batiste had an interception in the fourth quarter to go along with one near the end of the first half. Linebacker Peterson led the team with nine tackles. Harden had three catches for 60 yards through three quarters. Offensive lineman Taylor Evans helped pave the way for a rushing attack that had more yards than the Eagles’ (146 to 138) with just a few minutes left in the game. Kicker Wil Lutz didn’t make any mistakes with punts or kickoffs.
“We’ve been playing sudden death football for the past six weeks,” Lutz said. “We were ready.”