The Panthers always say they have a “next man up” mentality. Throughout this year, that mentality has been tested consistently.
Georgia State (1-5, 1-2 Sun Belt) has some more injuries to address on the offensive end going into its game against UT Martin (4-3, 3-1 Ohio Valley) on Saturday, but true to form, the team is confident it can make do with whoever is healthy on game day.
With Wide receiver Penny Hart already done for the year, the Panthers are now down two more starters with running back Kyler Neal sidelined with a high ankle sprain and tight end Keith Rucker having to miss more time with bruised ribs. For a team that is still trying to get everything clicking, having to create more harmony with guys further down the depth chart is far from ideal.
“It’s difficult, but you work on it,” coach Trent Miles said. “That’s why in practice you get everybody equal reps … so that one, the next man up can go in and know what he’s doing and function, and then two, that there is some confidence in him. These young guys will step in there and do a good job and we’ll be fine.”
GSU players and coaches insist that the team can work through the injuries and avoid having too much of a dropoff in production as more and more reserves and younger players are forced on the field.
Players echoed Miles and credited their ability to overcome injuries to the work they do in practice and making sure reps are split among players enough that anybody is ready to play come Saturday.
But as players try to build chemistry with those filling in for injured starters, guys said the work they do off the field plays just as big a role as what happens on the field.
“We just got to keep working, especially in the film room with the younger guys,” quarterback Conner Manning said. “I trust them and believe in them. I know they can go out and play, it’s just … they’re young, and they’re a little wide eyed, so we got to get them ready to go and that starts in the film room.”
As the man behind center, Manning has arguably the biggest adjustments to make when players go down. He has already adapted to life without one of his top receivers, but he now is getting accustomed to working without his starting running back and tight end.
One player who can play a big role for Manning and filling holes in the offense as starters continue to get hurt is Glenn Smith.
“He’s the ultimate power tool,” Manning said. “You can put him in the backfield, put him at wide receiver, he can do it all. He’s a tremendous mismatch and a tremendous playmaker for us. We got to keep getting him the ball, definitely in space, because when he gets in space he can make guys miss and turn it into big plays.”
Smith is third on the team in receptions and carries and leads the squad in all-purpose yards thanks to the work he does in the return game.
As the Panthers adjust to seeing some new and younger faces on the field more often, Smith said the starters make sure to stay around the guys filling in for injured players to help boost chemistry.
“Get a little more extra film than normal, and be with us more,” Smith said. “First group normally hangs out with the first group … but get them more involved with us.”