Georgia State will play its first Sun Belt Conference game Saturday. It will be a historic moment for a program whose history is mostly forgettable to this point.
The team is 0-5 this season, has been outscored by 120 points and hasn’t played four consistent quarters against any opponent. Troy (3-3), with its fast-paced offense, is up next, and no one has penciled in what would be the Panthers’ first home win since 2011.
But there have been glimpses of hope, moments where every player has executed just as he practiced, just as he was coached, just as he studied, just as everyone imagined. Easy to write and easy for coach Trent Miles to sum up:
“It’s about being where you are supposed to be when you are supposed to be there,” Miles said.
But, as the Panthers have shown, it’s not easy to do. Still, there are moments to cling to:
- Travis Evans’ 65-yard run against West Virginia.
- Ronnie Bell’s 75-yard touchdown pass to Albert Wilson against Jacksonville State.
- Wil Lutz’s school-record 53-yard field goal against Alabama.
Unfortunately for the few avid followers of the team, those good plays are often rendered mostly meaningless by a lack of execution on most of the remaining plays. The proof is in penalties (three illegal-substitution penalties against Alabama), missed tackles or missed assignments.
But Miles and the players say they see small steps of progress, even if they don’t always jump out by appearing in the box score after the game.
“It’s not anything to do with statistics,” he said. “It has to do when we watch the film, seeing guys produce, running the right reads, filling the right gap on defense.”
Miles said there are a lot of ingredients to execution, the catch-all phrase that seems like it’s mostly an either/or situation: either the play was run correctly, or it wasn’t. But he said the most important element is between the ears.
“Big thing I see is there’s not a lot of confidence in going out and winning,” he said. “We have to find a way to build confidence and get out there on Saturdays have some success and get over the hump.
“We are what we are physically. We aren’t going to grow between now and Saturday. We are who we are. We’ve got to get the most out of what we have. Our young men have to approach it mentally even more so than they have.”
As an example, on Monday, Miles told the players on offense that if they executed a particular play correctly, with everyone doing their job, he would cut their post-practice running in half. He then walked to the other side of the field and told the defense the same thing.
The players became excited, lined up correctly, called out their cues and communicated with each other. Both groups ran their plays correctly.
That’s an example of the practice-makes-perfect mantra that defensive coordinator Jesse Minter has preached since Miles and staff began working with the players earlier this year.
“To me, when you make a mistake on something you’ve run right three or four plays before … it’s not what we are asking them to do,” he said. “It’s just being able to do it and do it and do it. It’s teaching them how to focus to be successful at this level.
“It starts with the way we train in the weight room, train in the offseason, to get the guys to lock in and focus on what they have to do for that amount of time.”