The first night of Sun Belt football is in the books and it was a fun one. Four teams played three different levels of competition with varying results.
The conference came out of the night with a 1-3 record. Valiant efforts were made and major letdowns were had. Let’s jump right into it.
Tennessee State 17 Georgia State 10
Georgia State should cruise to victory and Panthers fans can celebrate in a sold-out Georgia State Stadium.
These were my words just yesterday afternoon. I ate them and they were quite detestable. Tigers quarterback Treon Harris gave Georgia State’s defense fits all night and the Panthers never found any rhythm on offense.
Conner Manning had a solid outing, throwing 14/17. However, the majority of his passes were screens and short yardage passes resulting in a total of 159 yards. His passing never amounted to any trips to the redzone, though, as the Panther offensive line was bullied into giving up several sacks.
The run game was near non-existent as well for Georgia State with Taz Bateman leading the way at 31 yards on 11 carries.
The defense could not contain the fleet-footed Harris as he continuously extended drives. His 91 rushing yards led both teams and he did so on just 11 carries.
Manning left the game in second half after an injury and the backup Aaron Winchester took over. With Winchester, the offense began to find some life. Down 17-3 early in the fourth quarter, Winchester found Bateman for a 36 yard touchdown pass.
Georgia State would have a couple more chances to tie the game, but a fumble and interception squandered any opportunity.
- The offense needs work and it starts on the offensive line. Georgia State started two true freshmen at the guard spots and the inexperience showed.
- It looks as if Taz Bateman will be the primary back after he received 11 carries to Kyler Neal’s five (which resulted in just two yards).
- The Panthers committed four turnovers and did not force any. Three of those giveaways were fumbles and, for a team that does not run the ball, that is simply unacceptable.
- There was one bright spot for Elliot’s Panthers and that was the fact that the defense never really broke down. Several long drives were given up but Georgia State made multiple defensive stops inside the redzone.
Idaho 28 Sacramento State 6
The Vandals quietly took care of business on the other side of the country against the Sacramento State Hornets. Idaho didn’t exactly take off out of the gates, amassing just 24 yards of offense in the first quarter as each team played the first 15 minutes scoreless.
The Hornets broke the tie with a field goal but Idaho quarterback Matt Linehan and crew began to find their groove. Linehan tossed two touchdowns in the second quarter, including a 49 yarder to running back Aaron Duckworth.
As for Duckworth, he was easily the player of the game. He tallied up 142 yards rushing on 19 carries for a healthy 7.5 yards per rush.
Up 14-6 in the third, Petrino went big on fourth and goal and let defensive lineman DJ Henderson punch it in from a yard out.
Duckworth put the game on ice with an 18 yard jaunt to the endzone in the fourth quarter for his second touchdown of the game.
Defensively, the Vandals gave up just 190 yards of offense and pitched a shutout in the second half. The Hornets were just 1-15 on third down conversions. That generally won’t win you too many football games.
- While Linehan was an efficient 14/19, he did throw two interceptions. This isn’t a huge concern at all right now, but should be an area to keep an eye on as we progress through September.
- The running back duo that Paul Petrino is deploying is looking strong as ever with Duckworth and Isaiah Saunders. The latter had 78 rushing yards of his own on 13 carries.
- This is a game that Idaho will soon see quite often. Sacramento State is a member of the Big Sky conference, of which Idaho will be joining next year.
Memphis 37 Louisiana-Monroe 29
The Warhawks played valiantly but ultimately fell to the Memphis Tigers. Memphis was favored to win this one by four scores, but had trouble keeping Monroe away.
ULM’s downfall was its porous run defense. Memphis tailbacks Darrell Henderson and Patrick Taylor Jr had a field day, combining for 300 rushing yards on a mere 27 carries. Henderson had two long touchdown runs himself and was the key factor in helping Memphis maintain its lead.
Warhawk running back Derrick Gore scored ULM’s first touchdown of the season in the first quarter and tied the ballgame at seven. Gore was the Warhawks primary running back, carrying the ball 15 times for 41 yards.
Early in the second quarter, Memphis began running away with the contest. Quarterback Riley Ferguson ran the ball on in from two yards and kick-started a 23-0 run that stretched late into the third.
Down 30-7, ULM finally scored again with a Kayin White touchdown run but had it quickly negated by 63 yard rushing touchdown by Henderson.
ULM made it a game, though, in the fourth quarter behind the two quarterbacks who split snaps throughout the game. Garrett Smith, who led the team in rushing and passing yards, connected with Marcus Green to cut the Tiger lead to 16.
Caleb Evans, who started the game, then found Xavier Brown in the final minute and brought the Warhawks to within eight. The onside kick would be recovered by Memphis, however, and the clock ran out and the Warhawks comeback attempt.
- Louisiana-Monroe appears to have two solid options at quarterback. Evans was 11/20 with 108 yards and a touchdown. Smith was 10/17 with 171 yards and a touchdown and interception. He also had 48 rushing yards on 12 carries.
- Matt Viator will have to do something about the run defense or they’ll be in for a long night next week against Florida State.
- Louisiana-Monroe looks like a better team as I expected but, as I also expected, it just won’t translate into wins this year. Keep an eye on the Warhawks this year as they’ve got the talent to steal one or two games this year.
Arizona State 37 New Mexico State 31
New Mexico State played the Sun Belt’s best game by far Thursday night and took the Sun Devils down to the wire. For a full recap of this one, click here.