Arkansas State University Coach Blake Anderson has said repeatedly that he doesn't mind his defense giving up yards -- so long as the Red Wolves can sprinkle in a few timely stops here and there.
On Saturday at Georgia State Stadium in Atlanta, the Red Wolves' defense stretched that philosophy until it broke.
Georgia State built a 21-0 lead and fended off a Red Wolves' rally in a 52-38 victory. ASU (3-3, 1-1 Sun Belt) allowed 722 yards of offense.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Layne Hatcher's 5-yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Omar Bayless with 10:30 left in the fourth quarter cut Georgia State's lead to 38-35. But ASU's defense, much like the entire afternoon, couldn't give its offense much help.
Georgia State running back Destin Coates punched in touchdown runs from 1 and 2 yards out over the final 6:30 of the game as the Panthers (3-2, 1-1) claimed their first victory over ASU after dropping the previous five meetings.
"It was tough for us defensively. We take this game on us," senior safety BJ Edmonds said in his postgame news conference. "Offense put up a ton of points, and we just didn't get the job done. So it's really a gut-check for us, and that we feel like we let the team down."
Another big performance by Bayless -- the nation's leading receiver who caught 8 passes for 154 yards and 3 touchdowns to become ASU's all-time leader in receiving touchdowns with 19 -- was overshadowed by an ASU defense that could not get off the field.
The Panthers gashed a depleted ASU defense, which was missing four starters and saw a few others get banged up Saturday. Their 722 yards and six rushing touchdowns were both school records, and Georgia State dominated the time of possession 39:19 to 20:41. The Panthers scored on six of their first eight drives and were held to one three and out all day.
Their 52 points were the most they have scored against an FBS team.
"We're without a bunch of weapons that we need [on defense], but somebody else has to step up and step in, and that's the frustrating part," Anderson said in the postgame news conference. "I get it. You can sit here and talk injuries all you want, but somebody else that's been begging for an opportunity has been plugged in at different spots, and we just didn't make the plays to get them off the field."
The Red Wolves punted on their first three drives, accumulating 5 passing yards during that stretch. Georgia State raced to a 21-0 lead with 8:56 left before halftime.
The Red Wolves' offense finally woke up. Hatcher hit junior receiver Jonathan Adams deep for 42 yards on the first play of the ensuing drive, putting ASU at GSU's 33. Two plays later, Hatcher found senior receiver Kirk Merritt wide open over the middle for a 24-yard touchdown pass, cutting the deficit to 21-7 with eight minutes left before halftime. Merritt finished with nine catches for 84 yards.
After a 43-yard field goal by the Panthers, the Red Wolves responded with a three-play, 75-yard scoring drive. Sophomore running back Marcel Murray, who had missed three consecutive games with an ankle injury, raced down the sideline for a 28-yard touchdown run as the Red Wolves trailed 24-14 with 4:40 left before the break.
ASU and GSU traded touchdowns, and the Panthers missed a 46-yard field goal attempt in the closing seconds of the half as the Red Wolves trailed 31-21. Hatcher hooked up with Bayless for a 31-yard touchdown pass on a third and 11 with 47 seconds left in the half.
"If there's a bright spot, [Bayless is] on a different level right now," Anderson said. "Never been more proud of a guy, I think, in my career. I want to get the other guys rallied around him so we can find a way to win some games."
After Georgia State quarterback Dan Ellington rushed for a 10-yard touchdown with 10:26 left in the third quarter to put the Panthers up 38-21, Hatcher was picked off over the middle on the first play of the next drive.
ASU's defense forced Georgia State's second punt of the day, and the Red Wolves responded with a four-play, 80-yard touchdown drive. Bayless snagged a 4-yard back-shoulder pass from Hatcher with one hand in the back corner of the end zone while getting mauled by a Georgia State defender, and the Red Wolves trailed 38-28 with 4:21 left in the third quarter.
Early in the fourth, Bayless hauled in another touchdown catch with one hand -- this one from 5 yards out -- and ASU was within a field goal at 38-35, but that was as close as the Red Wolves would get.
"Just got to fix a lot of things as a team," Bayless said. "Everybody's got to buy in, have to sacrifice a lot of things for this football team because it's not going to be easy. Everybody got a target on Arkansas State. We just got to go out with a lot more aggression and temper, knowing that people are gonna come after us."
Hatcher completed 21 of 32 passes for 299 yards, 4 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. The Red Wolves had 421 yards of offense.
"I thought the guys around me played well enough to win. I let them down. I didn't play good enough to win," Hatcher said. "I made some bad decisions, did some dumb things. I let the offense down tonight."
Sports on 10/06/2019
Print Headline: ASU gives up 722 yards, fails to rally