In his third career start last Friday, in Georgia State's season-opening loss to Samford, Panthers quarterback Ronnie Bell completed 28 passes and threw for 391 yards and three touchdowns. Wide receiver Albert Wilson had eight catches for 167 yards — the eighth 100-yard game of his career — and a touchdown.
Georgia State (0-1) proved in the 31-21 loss that it can move the ball through the air and that it was willing to keep attacking. Bell finished 28-for-51, though his did throw two key interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown.
If the Panthers' passing game was so good, why is the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (0-1), which faces GSU in the Georgia Dome on Saturday, so worried about the Georgia State running game?
"If I were them and I watched us against UT-Martin, I'd hand the ball off 89 times and never throw a pass," Mocs coach Russ Huesman said. "They've got to be, right now, licking their chops, saying, 'They can't tackle, they can't fit gaps, they don't run to the football -- let's get ourselves 300 yards rushing.' If I'm them, that's what I'm doing."
In UTC's 31-21 loss, the normally stout Mocs defense missed 36 tackles and gave up 451 yards and two 100-yard rushers. Martin's backup running back, Trent Garland, gained 116 yards on eight carries -- all in the second half.
A Mocs defense depleted by injuries was a tired unit in the second half, which is when the Skyhawks gained 218 of their 289 yards on the ground.
"We played a bad game, and we know that we're better than that," All-America senior linebacker Wes Dothard said. "I think we just got worn down a little bit, and that's when you started seeing the missed tackles come."
All-Southern Conference senior safety D.J. Key (foot) practiced all week and could be available Saturday. Safety Zach McCarter (knee) and cornerback Will Johnson (shoulder) also practiced, but their status for the game is unknown. Huesman said earlier this week that Key was the closest to returning.
Georgia State ran for only 72 yards on 25 carries against Samford. Gerald Howse led the Panthers with 29 yards on 14 carries, but GSU's ground game should get a boost Saturday with the return of senior Travis Evans, who was suspended for the opener. Evans has 1,095 career rushing yards and 48 catches for 306 yards. He's listed as the starter against the Mocs.
"We've got to be prepared for everything," UTC senior cornerback Chaz Moore said. "I feel like their playbook is just going to open up and we have stop them [running and throwing]. Hopefully we stop both and come out with a victory."
Georgia State first-year coach Trent Miles said the Panthers' running game in the opener was impaired by a "little bit different look from the defense" and a "little bit of struggle at the point of attack" up front.
"They weren't going to let us run the football, nor did we do a very good job of knocking them off the ball," Miles said. "I thought we missed some holes, to be honest with you. We can be a lot better running the ball from all aspects."
That's what the Mocs are preparing for, and it's what will make their challenge defensively that much harder.
Saturday's game is UTC's only trip away from home in the first four weeks of the season. The Mocs opened at Finley Stadium last week, host Austin Peay on Sept. 14 and are off the following week. ... The last time the Mocs played in a dome was against Tulane in New Orleans in 1988.
Contact John Frierson at email@example.com or 423-757-6268. Follow him at twitter.com/MocsBeat.
John Frierson is in his seventh year at the Times Free Press and seventh year covering University of Tennessee at Chattanooga athletics. The bulk of his time is spent covering Mocs football, but he also writes about women’s basketball and the big-picture issues and news involving the athletic department. A native of Athens, Ga., John grew up a few hundred yards from the University of Georgia campus. Instead of becoming a Bulldog he attended Ole ...