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Georgia State needs a reboot after being eliminated from bowl picture

Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire

Georgia State has been playing football for about seven years. The Panthers have taken baby steps along the way to try to become a decent program. There have been some small successes, including playing their first bowl game in 2015.

On Thursday, Georgia State lost to Arkansas State 31-16 to drop the Panthers to 2-7, meaning no postseason play in 2016 for the Panthers. The game at the old but cavernous Georgia Dome had a paid attendance of 13,363.

I know the problems GSU has in getting attention in Atlanta, which is already known as a home for very apathetic sports fans. The Falcons, Braves and Hawks are obstacles. Add in Georgia Tech and Georgia, along with other alums from other SEC and ACC schools, it is tough for Georgia State to get much play in the local scene.

However, if this program is going to get where it wants to go, things may have to change after this season. It may not have to bring in a new head coach, but something needs to add a spark to the Georgia State program.

Coming off a berth in the Cure Bowl, GSU was supposed to be a good team this year — not necessarily a contender for the Sun Belt Conference title, but at least gunning for one of the SBC’s five bowl bids. Instead, injuries and inconsistency on offense have prevented the Panthers from taking that next step.

Quarterback Connor Manning has been adjusting to get the offense going, but to no avail: GSU has sunk to the bottom of the SBC rankings in total offense (307.9 yards per game) and scoring offense (19.8 points per game).

Manning has shown signs of improving as the season goes, but losing All-SBC receiver Penny Hart for the year has hurt GSU’s offense, despite still having Robert Davis, who went over the 200-catch mark in his college career on Thursday. He had nine catches for 87 yards in the game, which puts him at 3,089 receiving yards in his four-year career at GSU.

The lone bright spot for Georgia State has been its defense, which has kept the Panthers competitive in many games this year, including the September contest against then-No. 9 Wisconsin. The defense averages 177.8 passing yards this season, which is second in the Sun Belt and 13th in the nation.

The GSU defense stayed strong against Arkansas State, giving up only 305 total yards to the Red Wolves. The problems came on special teams: The Red Wolves scored touchdowns on a blocked field goal and a punt return. Another touchdown was set up on a bad snap from a punt.

Meanwhile, the offense outgained ASU and Manning threw for 237 yards and a touchdown, but he also threw two interceptions and could not sustain a late drive to get the Panthers back into the game.

Arkansas State is a good football team that has won 13 straight Sun Belt contests and is now on a four-game winning streak after losing its first four games of the season. Yet, the poor special teams play and lack of a strong offense late in the game sent Georgia State to another loss and no bowl.

As the Braves move into their swanky (and taxpayer-funded) new home on the north side of the Perimeter in 2017, Turner Field will be reconstructed to be the new home for Georgia State football starting next season. When the Panthers take the field there, they will need something for the local fan base to be inspired to see, not just the new stadium.

Head coach Trent Miles has done a decent job in leading Georgia State into the FBS and has set a good tone for the program, but the wins are not coming fast enough, and time may be running out on him. If he can find a new offensive coordinator or something to invigorate the program, he can still lead GSU to success.

Now that it is assured Georgia State is not bowling, can Miles and the Panthers show some positive signs in the last three games of the season? GSU is expected to play well against Louisiana-Monroe next Saturday, and the rivalry game against Georgia Southern could be the opportunity for this team to put it together.

Georgia State has grown by small amounts the last seven years, but it may be time for the program to do something to expand that growth in the years to come.

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