The news that Georgia State leading wide receiver Donovan Harden will be out for 6-8 weeks because of a broken bone in his right foot isn’t ideal for a program that is still looking for its first win in the Sun Belt Conference.
But it’s not as bad as it may seem.
Even Harden went on twitter on Wednesday to post: “Everything will be fine.”
Things may be OK for a lot of reasons, including:
The position is deep
Wide receiver is the deepest and most talented group on the roster. The pool includes Robert Davis, UAB transfer Nyiakki Height, Avery Sweeting, Glenn Smith, Todd Boyd and Penny Hart, among others. Height has looked great in camp and Sweeting is the fastest player on the team. Smith (7 catches, 83 yards) and Boyd (8 catches, 119 yards) showed flashes last year. Quarterback Nick Arbuckle and his teammates have raved about Hart.
The timing: Had this injury happened in the week of the season-opening game against Charlotte, my outlook would likely be more grim. But because that game is still three weeks away, Arbuckle has a lot of time to develop chemistry with whomever the coaches want to put into the slot. With the exceptions of Height and Hart, it’s not like these are receivers that Arbuckle hasn’t already been working with for more than a year.
The Panthers open with what has to be considered their two easiest back-to-back games: Charlotte, playing its first year of FBS football and third overall, and New Mexico State, whose defense was arguably as bad as Georgia State’s last year.
Those are still winnable games.
If Harden returns in six weeks, he would be back in time to play at Oregon. Yikes. Why do that? Especially after three players suffered season-ending injury when the Panthers played at Washington last year. Take the third-stringers to Oregon. Save yourselves!
The Panthers have a week off after that and then will host Liberty. That’s eight weeks, which is when he seems most likely able to come back, assuming everything heals as it should.
The other benefit
Harden is definitely out. Tight end Joel Ruiz, another preseason all-conference selection, may also miss the opener.
That doesn’t sound good for the passing game, does it? Perhaps. Georgia State still has Keith Rucker, Bill Teknipp and Ari Werts, who is more of an H-back than a traditional tight end. But offenses can operate without a tight end. That’s why having a good one is a rarity.
Without Ruiz and Harden, it may mean that the Panthers will really work to run the ball, something they haven’t been able to do for two years for a lot of year, but could reap benefits later in the year.
Now, it’s easy to surmise that if the Panthers can’t throw the ball, opponents will just load up in the box to stop the running game. They might, but as noted above Georgia State still has a lot of talent at wide receiver and a quarterback who can get the ball to them.