Georgia State coach Trent Miles has preached that the Panthers’ margin of error is so slim, they have to perform every play correctly to give themselves a chance to win.
That was evident in Saturday’s 32-26 overtime loss to Jacksonville State.
Just a few mistakes proved to be the difference between the Panthers (0-4) posting their first victory at the Georgia Dome since 2011 and their 14th loss in 15 games.
“This isn’t about fighting and competing, it’s about execution,” a teary Miles said. “Our kids were pounding away. I told them they should be disappointed, which they are, but they should be proud of themselves. We’ll keep pounding on that rock. We don’t know when it will break, but we are going to shatter it pretty soon.”
The Panthers overcame a 14-point deficit in the fourth quarter to send the game to overtime, but Jacksonville State won it in the extra session on a 2-yard touchdown run by DaMarcus James.
A few Georgia State errors stood out, three that were uncharacteristic.
Wil Lutz missed a point-after attempt after Ronnie Bell hit Albert Wilson for a 75-yard touchdown on the game’s first play. Lutz said he rushed the kick, which resulted in the ball going off his toe and to the right. It was the first point-after attempt he has missed. He attempted a 50-yard field goal in the third quarter that banged off the upright. His ball naturally hooks, but it just didn’t turn left hard enough. If made, either would have secured the win. He also missed a field goal in overtime that he said he rushed.
Miles said the blame lies with him because he didn’t coach Lutz well enough.
“We all know we played really well,” Lutz said. “Everyone’s down on themselves, but there are so many positives from this game.”
If the Panthers win a game this year — and the schedule now becomes much more difficult with No. 1 Alabama up next in two weeks followed by the Sun Belt portion — they may point to this game and a frantic few minutes in the fourth quarter as the turning point.
“It’s not about talent, size and strength, it’s about execution, X’s and O’s and getting it done,” defensive tackle Theo Agnew said. “Today was a great example of when we don’t execute what happens. But it also showed that when we did execute we performed well.”
Unlike the loss to Chattanooga two weeks ago in which the Panthers were pummeled physically and didn’t seem focused mentally, they came out focused this week, opening the scoring on the Bell-to-Wilson pass that offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski installed Saturday morning. Bell faked a handoff to Travis Evans, rolled right and found Wilson 10 yards behind his defender.
Still, because of the few errors that were made, the Panthers trailed by 14 points just a few seconds into the fourth quarter. The mistakes included a questionable fumble by Evans that was returned to the 1-yard line and an interception that bounced off Kelton Hill and eventually led to another Gamecocks touchdown just before halftime.
The rally seemingly died with an incomplete pass by Bell on fourth-and-5 on the 11-yard line with 14:48 left. The decision left the Panthers two touchdowns behind and, aside from the opening score, the offense didn’t seem capable of moving the ball well enough to be counted on. Something else needed to happen.
On the next possession, C.J. Scott came through untouched and blocked Jacksonville State’s punt. He grabbed the ball inside the 1-yard line and fell into the end zone. The Panthers hit the extra point to cut the gap to 23-16 with 13:11 left. It was the first blocked punt returned for a touchdown in school history.
“Everybody was coming to me saying it was a momentum swing,” Scott said.
As the kickoff coverage team was running onto the field, Miles said they were reminded to make the tackle first, and try to cause a fumble second.
Jamal Ransby knocked the ball loose from Telvin Brown and Dontavis Crocker recovered on the 13-yard line. Bell hit Robert Davis for a 10-yard touchdown pass two plays later and the PAT made it 23-23 with 12:09 remaining.
Belief was growing.
The teams traded a few punts before Jacksonville broke the tie with a 34-yard field goal with 2:58 left.
But Georgia State still wasn’t done, resulting in the game-tying field goal.
Bell scrambled for 17 yards on fourth-and-3 on the 36-yard line to keep the drive alive. He later scrambled for 12 on third-and-13 and then hit Wilson for 18 yards to the 27-yard line.
Bell led Georgia State with 57 yards rushing on 11 carries. He also completed 16 of 41 for 250 yards. Lutz hit the 26-yard field goal to tie the score as the clock expired.
“We are getting really, really close,” Miles said. “Our young men are going to win games.”