Three years ago, Georgia State went winless for the 2013 season, playing in a near-empty Georgia Dome. Head coach Trent Miles knew the road to respectability was going to be tough, but he knew there would be light at the end.
Saturday, the Panthers still played in front of a lot of empty seats, but you can say that Panther fans were saving their money to go see their team play in a bowl game.
Georgia State will head for a bowl for the first time in the program’s young history after a shocking 34-7 win at Georgia Southern to put the Panthers at 6-6 and going to possibly the Cure Bowl in Orlando or the Arizona Bowl in Tucson.
So yeah, the team is excited about the win.
— GSU Panthers (@GSUPanthers) December 5, 2015
The Panthers, with its best defensive effort all season, held the Eagles to only 135 rushing yards. Yes, only 135 against a team that averages 375.6 yards this season.
Also, State quarterback Nick Arbuckle – who has developed into the SBC’s best quarterback this season – threw for 346 yards and three touchdowns, including two in the third quarter that broke a 7-7 halftime tie.
The Panthers started the season with a disappointing loss to Charlotte, who was playing its first game in the Football Bowl Subdivision. But rock bottom came with a 41-33 loss to Liberty, a FCS school that won only seven games all year. Since that loss, the Panthers have won five of their last eight games.
The spark comes from a strong passing attack, led by Arbuckle and his receivers Penny Hart, Donovan Harden and Robert Davis. Hart is most likely a shoo-in pick to be the SBC Freshman of the Year, as he ranks second among all FBS freshmen in receptions and receiving yards and third in touchdowns.
Hart was Arbuckle’s main target on Saturday, catching seven balls for 129 yards, including a 63-yard pass for a touchdown in the first half.
Meanwhile, Georgia Southern lost only its second conference game in its two years in the Sun Belt. But the good news is that the Eagles will be going to the GoDaddy Bowl in Mobile, Ala., for their first-ever bowl bid.
But the bad news is that star running back Matt Breida ran for only 45 yards on eight carries and injured an ankle in the game and his early prognosis for the bowl game is up in the air.
Fritz said Matt Breida sprained his ankle. Not sure what the prognosis is for the GoDaddy Bowl
— Nathan Deen (@NathanDeenSMN) December 5, 2015
As for Georgia State, this is obviously a huge win for the program and for Miles, who has seen his team show great character the last two years after so many losses. Going to play in a bowl game will get the positive exposure that the program needs, not only nationwide, but also at home. With Georgia Tech not going to a bowl and Georgia in a coaching search, there’s a good chance that the city will turn its eyes to the Panthers after their huge win on Saturday.
And maybe there will be a lot of Georgia State fans in the stands in Orlando or Tucson, as well as the Georgia Dome for the 2016 home opener.