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Red Wolves' run game struggles in road defeat

by Mitchell Gladstone | November 21, 2021 at 2:56 a.m.

Kivon Bennett scooped up the ball and rumbled 80 yards down the sideline in front of the Arkansas State bench.

In a span of 18 seconds, Bennett gave the Red Wolves life, with the visitors just having come up short on fourth down inside their own 30.

More importantly, he'd given them a shot to pull off a comeback.

But as was the story of the afternoon at Center Parc Stadium, ASU squandered whatever chances it had to win consecutive road games for the first time since 2015. Georgia State ran out the clock to hold off the Red Wolves for a 28-20 victory in Atlanta.

The Panthers ran for 283 yards -- ASU finished with just 270 yards of total offense -- and scored all four of their touchdowns on the ground, wearing down a Red Wolf rush defense that entered the weekend worst in the nation.

"A lot of missed opportunities and not just [in] the second half, but it started on the first drive," ASU Coach Butch Jones said. "The defense does a great job of taking the football away and you have to play complementary football. You have to turn that turnover into seven points and we had to kick a field goal."

Although Georgia State (6-5, 5-2 Sun Belt) went three-and-out on its ensuing two series, the Red Wolves did the same.

That left the door open for the Panthers to take the lead, and they did just that. Georgia State went 85 yards on 11 plays, capitalizing on a roughing-the-passer flag by ASU (2-9, 1-6) that would've likely forced a field goal attempt as Jamyest Williams punched in the touchdown from a yard out.

And just when it looked like the Red Wolves might lose control of the game early -- the Panthers strung together another 11-play series to make it 14-3 -- Lincoln Pare turned a third-and-forever into an 83-yard screen pass touchdown, giving ASU some desperately-needed juice.

"I knew it was going to be a big play," Pare said. "I caught it, looked in front of me, didn't really see anybody, so I hit the gas."

But the Red Wolves missed an opportunity to grab only their second halftime lead of the season, getting the ball with 4:34 until halftime. ASU got all the way down to the Georgia State 13 before neither Corey Rucker nor Te'Vailance Hunt was able to haul in a go-ahead score.

So while Blake Grupe was able to pull ASU within one at 14-13 before the break -- becoming the Red Wolves' all-time leading scorer in the process -- it was more points left on the scoreboard.

Georgia State turned its one-point advantage into 15 in less than three minutes at the start of the fourth, all but burying ASU save for Bennett's scoop-and-score.

The Red Wolves' offense gave ASU little chance to play its way back into things.

Layne Hatcher threw a pair of interceptions, completed only 28 of his 48 pass attempts and was sacked six times for a loss of 40 yards. That added to the misery of the Red Wolf run game which finished with -3 rushing yards, kept well in check by a Panther defense that added nine more tackles for loss to its half-dozen sacks.

"When you throw the ball, everything's about rhythm and spacing and timing but it starts with protecting the quarterback," Jones said. "We didn't have much time to throw at times, but also on the perimeter when you have opportunities to make plays, you need to step up and make plays."

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