Patience will need to be in ample supply for Georgia State. The Panthers have gone 2-33 during the last three seasons as the startup program has moved into the FBS ranks. Trent Miles rebuilt Indiana State but his lone win in two seasons at Georgia State is by one point over Abilene Christian to start last season. With 16 returning starters, including 10 on offense, and a growing roster of scholarship players, Miles will look to continue building the foundation.
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Previewing Georgia State’s Offense for 2015
There weren’t many things Georgia State did reliably well last season except pass the ball, which allowed the Panthers to be competitive more often than they had been during a winless 2013. The good news is most of the key pieces that made Georgia State’s passing game respectable return with what should be a deeper and more talented supporting cast.
But the Panthers still have a long way to go, and it’s unclear how much a bevy of new faces up front and at tailback will help a rushing attack that averaged just 3.0 yards per carry and 96.3 yards per game, which ranked next-to-last in the Sun Belt. “We still have some holes we can’t fill for a couple years, but we’re a lot closer,” coach Trent Miles says.
Optimism starts with 6'1" senior quarterback Nick Arbuckle, a former junior college transfer who completed 60.4 percent of his passes and threw for 3,283 yards with 23 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. “He’s got good touch, and he usually knows where to go with it,” Miles says. “He tried to force some plays, which happens when you’re struggling as a team. But he’s relaxed a lot more, and I’m looking for a big year.”
The Panthers should benefit from the return of tailback Kyler Neal, who averaged 5.2 yards per carry in four games before getting injured, and most of a receiving corps led by Donovan Harden, who had 60 catches for 885 yards last season. “He’s a stud,” Miles says. “That’s one of our deeper positions.”
Previewing Georgia State’s Defense for 2015
Miles has a pretty simple assessment of Georgia State’s defense in 2014: “Horrible.” The Panthers allowed 303.4 rushing yards per game, had just 12 sacks, gave up 51.9 percent of third-down conversions and forced a paltry eight turnovers. Once again, though, there’s no quick fix for a roster that was bereft of talent, depth and size when Miles took over aside from recruiting and internal growth, particularly in the weight room.
With some new personnel, there could be big changes on the defensive line. Julien Laurent, a 6'4", 325-pound Canadian, is poised to make a big impact after a year at New Mexico Military Institute. Georgia State is hoping a mix of junior college transfers, UAB transfer Alonzo McGee and players such as linebackers Michael Shaw and Niemus Bryant will supplement a couple solid returning pieces on the front seven. Linebacker Joe Peterson is a four-year starter and an All-Sun Belt selection, and sophomore Trey Payne had 88 tackles last season.
Miles says the Panthers are “deeper than we’ve ever been” in the secondary with the addition of junior college safety Cloves Campbell and UAB transfer Bobby Baker, who played well for the Blazers before suffering an early season injury. Even if the Panthers’ front-line personnel is better, injuries and depth are going to be a major concern.
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Previewing Georgia State’s Specialists for 2015
Senior Wil Lutz didn’t get many scoring opportunities last season but made the most of them. He hit on 7-of-8 field goals and is 15-of-16 in his career inside of 40 yards. He will also handle punting duties after splitting time there last season. Miles hopes for more big plays out of the return game from Harden and new slot receiver Kameron Myers, who can really fly.
This program has had a rough transition from FCS to FBS, and it’s going to take more time to turn it around. Still, the Panthers will have around 80 scholarship players this year, up from the mid-60s last season, and return all but four contributors. Though there are still major questions about physicality and size on both lines of scrimmage, the skill level is improving at nearly every position, which should be enough to see incremental strides in Miles’ third season.