What’s wrong with Georgia State’s football team?

I posed this question two years ago, but after Saturday’s 52-10 shellacking by Arkansas State it is time to ask it again: what is wrong with Georgia State football?

Just as then, the question comes after a galling loss. The answer then was a lack of talent.

Some this year may blame the coaching and, though I don’t agree with them, I can understand why: the defense seems to be getting worse each week rather than better.

In the second year running a system, and with a lot of returning starters up front, you’d think that the players would be better able to execute what’s asked. Instead, they looked lost and still not physically ready to handle the rigors of FBS football.

That brings us to the depth, which is what I think the real issue is.

With the decisions of freshmen Krysten Hammon and Maaseiah Francis to leave the program, coach Trent Miles is now down to 69 scholarship players. That’s 69 out a maximum 85. So Miles and his coaches are trying to compete against caliber teams without all the pieces needed.

There’s just not enough depth to create the competition needed.

As an example, consider the injury sustained by outside linebacker Mackendy Cheridor two weeks ago.

The loss of one player shouldn’t result in defensive coordinator Jesse Minter having to change systems and juggle schemes to the extent he has.

Instead, Cheridor goes down and Minter should be able to plug in another outside linebacker.

But there was no one ready to plug in.

Melvin King, signed by the previous coaching staff, was suspended last week and hadn’t had the best of years before that.

Freshman Michael Shaw won’t play this year. So the coaches turned to freshman James Traylor, a converted wide receiver, who played for a while on Saturday.

So there’s an example of the lack of depth that’s problem throughout the team: a sophomore starter supported by a pair of true freshmen, one of whom won’t play this year. Cheridor is supposed to be back this week.

Turn to the offensive line: the loss of Michael Ivory shouldn’t result in having to move the starting right tackle to left tackle, but that’s what happened on Saturday.

How did the program reach this point?

That one is easier to understand: the suddenness of the move from FCS to FBS.

First, some background:

FBS teams can use a maximum of 85 scholarships and can sign a maximum of 25 players each year.

FCS teams can use a maximum of 63 scholarships and can sign a maximum of 30 players each year. Because of the smaller number of scholarships and larger classes, FCS coaches don’t have to worry as much as their FBS counterparts about balancing rosters by class and position. It’s somewhat easier for them to reload.

Now, here’s how the timing of things worked against Georgia State:

The university announced in April of 2012 that it was going to move up to FBS to become full-fledged members this year. The application was sent in June. Coach Bill Curry announced in August that he was going to retire.

So you have a coaching staff that knew it wasn’t going to be retained for its final season coupled with less than two years in which to try to “fix” the roster issues and done under the FBS rules.

As everyone assumed, the coaches weren’t retained. Many of the players they recruited and who were committed to Georgia State weren’t considered FBS caliber by the current staff.

Miles was hired in December.  He honored the commitment of some of those players, but released most from their decisions.

That’s a lot of wasted work.

Miles had less than six weeks to build his first recruiting class. But he and his staff did what they could and, despite the lack of time and familiarity with all of Georgia’s high schools, still found several key pieces who are starters this year, many of those are on defense.

Turning to the next issue of roster management: Playing on Miles’ first team were 27 scholarship seniors, all of whom were recruited by the previous staff.

Twenty seven is two more players than he was allowed to sign for his second recruiting class. It may seem easy to say, ‘well that’s only a two-player difference, what’s the big deal?’

The big deal is there aren’t guarantees that you can fill each position with another player of equal or greater value. Such are the vagaries of recruiting and trying to convince teenagers of what they should do.

And if you sign a player that isn’t working out, but there’s no one behind him who is ready to go, the coaches have to work with what they’ve got and make the necessary adjustments. Some of that lack of depth is what you are seeing this year.

As they say, it’s not about the Xs and Os, it’s about the Jimmies and the Joes (of course, that seems counter-intuitive considering the rising salaries of the coaches, but that’s another discussion for another day).

Now, to the future problem:

This year, Miles said he had 14 seniors (it’s unclear how many are on scholarship)….illustrating the oddities that he inherited in terms of roster management. The good news is losing 14 players and signing as many as 25 will help the roster get closer to the 85 maximum. (Quick math: 69-14+25= 80….)

He has said several times that it will take two more classes to build up to the maximum number of scholarships and to get the classes balanced so if you lose a Cheridor or Ivory to injury, there is another player who can be plugged in.

That doesn’t mean it will take two more years for Georgia State to not suffer any more defeats like Saturday’s.

If the team can avoid injuries and bad luck, it should be much more competitive next year because it will have more depth and more competition as long as the coaches are finding and signing the right players.

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