Panthers Lose Twice in Loss to Villanova

Last Saturday, coming off their first win of the season, the Panthers once again fell victim to turnovers and inconsistent play as Villanova claimed a 49-24 win over host Georgia State on Homecoming at the Georgia Dome. In the process, they lost running back Donald Russell for the season as they prepare to take on two top-10 opponents in the next two weeks.

The Wildcats, ranked No. 24 by the Sports Network, used a 66-yard punt return touchdown and a 32-yard interception return to open a 35-10 halftime lead.  In total, Villanova ran the ball 53 times for 343 yards, and gained another 127 yards in the air on an 11-for-15 completion rate.  Villanova gained 28 first downs against the Panther’s defense – surpassing the mark of 27 set by Tennessee earlier this season.

"We were out of position on the quarterback runs," said Head Coach Bill Curry. "We have a response, we see it every week, it's not as if it's some kind of magic show. Probably didn't practice as well as we have, but the guys sucked it up and pulled it together. We thought by Thursday that we were in good shape in terms of concentration, but we didn't play that well."

Georgia State, gained 309 total yards, with only 79 being on the ground.  106 of the passing yards and two of GSU’s touchdowns came in the fourth quarter after Villanova had the game well in hand.  A bright spot for Georgia State was once again junior Albert Wilson who had six catches for 104 yards and five kick returns for 176 yards. His 61-yard kick return and 55-yard touchdown catch were the Panther's two longest plays of the day.

"Albert plays his heart out on every play, he's just a great player. It was too little, too late and that's too much of a repetitive story," said Curry. "We're just better than this and that's the part that is so painful."

Perhaps the biggest disappointment of the game was that Donald Russell, the reigning Colonial Athletic Association offensive player of the week who was coming off a school-record 201 rushing yards in last week's win over Rhode Island, was held to four yards on five carries before leaving the game in the first quarter with a knee injury.  It has subsequently been confirmed that Russell is lost for the rest of the year with an MCL sprain.

So now, as Georgia State prepares for Saturday’s game at No. 9/10 ranked James Madison, the Panthers must be ready to face what Curry describes as “the most physical team we’ve seen” without the school’s all-time leading rusher.

After climbing to No. 2 in the FCS national rankings last week, JMU (5-2, 3-1 CAA) is now at No. 9 by the Sports Network and No. 10 in the FCS Coaches Poll following their 35-29 loss at Richmond.  James Madison will be Georgia State’s third ranked opponent in four weeks, following New Hampshire and Villanova. Next week’s opponent, Old Dominion, is also ranked in the Top 10 of both polls.

“You can’t lie, you can’t say that you love this stuff – no, we don’t like the fact that Donald’s out. We don’t like the fact that we have a patchwork defensive line,” Curry said. “What we say is, so do a lot of other teams across the country. The ones that don’t make excuses, the ones that suck it up, the ones that hit the weight room, the ones that get their pads down, that run to the football – it’s a funny thing what happens, they win some games.

“Two years ago we had a Super Bowl champion that had the most players in the league on IR (injured reserve)– the Green Bay Packers lost more people to the injured reserve list than any other team in the league. They just kept winning. So you find a way, and the response is you’re not the Green Bay Packers and you’re exactly right, but we are a football team. We’re trying to build an attitude here about how we’re going to handle adversity, and I hope the men are learning from this and paying attention.”

In their loss to Richmond, the Dukes trailed 35-16 with under seven minutes to play when true freshman quarterback Michael Birdsong, who replaced starter Justin Thorpe, led JMU to a pair of late touchdowns. Birdsong is expected to start this week against Georgia State.

“What we have to do next is to play our best against one of these outstanding teams,” said Curry at his weekly press conference. “When we come up against the better opponents, we haven’t played the best that we can play. When we play as well as we are capable of playing, and we do not turn the ball over, we are dangerous. It may sound absurd when you look at our scores, but I’ve been here before. What we need to do is have enough confidence to start a game that way against a quality opponent and then do all four quarters.”

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