3 observations after Georgia State’s win over South Alabama

Georgia State, led by Trent Miles, went 1-11 last season. (Phil Skinner / AJC)

Georgia State defeated South Alabama on Saturday. (Phil Skinner / AJC)

Three observations after Georgia State’s 24-10 win over South Alabama on Saturday at the Georgia Dome, the Panthers’ first back-to-back wins since the 2010 inaugural season:

The defense steps up again

After the Jaguars scored a touchdown on their first drive, largely because of a 70-yard kickoff return, Georgia State’s defense held them to just a field goal the rest of the game.

This was the group’s fifth solid performance in its past five games (Arkansas State wasn’t as bad as the score indicated), and it appears to be getting better and better. The 10 points was the fewest allowed under coach Trent Miles, bettering the mark of 19 set and then tied in the past five games.

“Our defense was outstanding through the whole game” Miles said.

The defense played well because it took South Alabama tight end Gerald Everett mostly out of the game (one catch, 19 yards deep in the fourth quarter), forcing quarterback Cody Clements to try to find other weapons and he couldn’t, finishing with just 125 passing yards. The defensive line, which I have been critical of, played very well with several big plays made by Jalen Lawrence and Shawanye Lawrence. The Jaguars finished with 267 yards, the fewest Georgia State’s defense has allowed this season and fourth-fewest in program history.

“Not every game is going to be 45-42; some are defensive struggles,” Miles said.

The defense was helped by an offense that started to gain traction in second quarter and continued it in the third quarter.

Quarterback Nick Arbuckle said South Alabama came out in a defense that they have never shown on field featuring six defensive backs, the fifth- or sixth week in a row an opponent unveiled a new defense against Georgia State.

It took the offense a little time to adjust.

The momentum moved squarely to Georgia State when Donovan Harden caught a pass along the sideline and somehow stayed in bounds long enough to get the ball inches past the first down marker on third and 14 in the third quarter.

In the game, the offense had scoring drives of 18 plays in the second quarter, 15 in the third quarter, and 12 and 10 in the fourth quarter. It was on the field for so long in the third quarter, the Jags ran just three plays on offense and the their defense was notably gassed the remainder of the game.

“Everybody knows we are a big-play offense and accustomed to throwing the ball over your head,” Miles said. “They would not allow that to happen today. They were keeping everything in front. It showed the execution of our offense being able to pick’ em underneath.

“It showed the mental toughness of our kids, to go out and win the game.”

Arbuckle set a new record with touchdowns responsible for with 26, surpassing the 25 he had last year. He completed 27 of 44 passes for 311 yards. He passed for a touchdown and rushed for one. Arbuckle has 3,446 passing yards, also a school single-season record. He set the previous mark of 3,283 last year.

“I would much rather have a game like this than a game like Liberty when our offense is barely on the field,” Arbuckle said.

The win at home

Before Saturday, Georgia State had won one game at the Dome since 2012, and it came against FCS newcomer Abilene Christian in last year’s season opener. Coaches and players have acknowledged that the team has played much better on the road than at home, but no one was sure why. The stats bore that out with averages of 33.6 points on the road compared to 19.3 at home.

“It’s good for these guys to finally get the monkey off their back at home,” Miles said.

Now the Panthers will host Troy next Friday with a chance to win back to back games at home for the first time since a three-game streak in 2010.

“Right now, I can’t wait to get back in the facility,” Arbuckle said.

Bowl hopes alive

The Panthers (4-6, 3-3 Sun Belt) now must defeat Troy at the Georgia Dome next Friday and Georgia Southern in Statesboro the following week to reach bowl eligibility.

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