As Georgia State coach Trent Miles put it after the game, it was the tale of two halves.
The performance the Panthers — who play in the Sun Belt Conference — put on the Huskies in the first half rivaled that of any major-conference team.
They held Washington to 73 yards of offense, while slashing the Huskies’ defense for 231 yards and two touchdowns, and led at halftime, 14-0.
Yet, they lost, 45-14.
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“(The defense) got tired. You can be playing the Seattle Seahawks, if you put them where they’re backed up every series, they’re going to get worn down,” Miles said. “That’s a Pac-12 football team. We’ve been playing football for five years and we only have six seniors on the trip. We wear down when you leave them out there like that. You have to move the ball on offense to keep them off the field to give them a rest.”
Whether Miles was satisfied with how his team played through the first two quarters, the end result drowned out the rest.
Throw out the fact that the Panthers’ quarterback, Nick Arbuckle, threw for two touchdowns and completed 18 of 24 passes for 184 yards through the first two quarters. Forget about how they dominated the time of possession, 21:04 to the Huskies’ 8:56, and stopped Washington on third down five of six times.
All by a Panthers team in just its fifth year of existence, by the way, who went 0-12 last year in their first season as an FBS team.
But the Huskies became a new team in the second half, while two special teams blunders by the Panthers helped open up the floodgates. Washington’s offense scored 45 unanswered points, while their defense allowed only 42 yards by Georgia State.
“Sometimes, we tend to panic a little bit, but they honed in and focused and got some things done,” Huskies’ coach Chris Petersen said.
Dante Pettis’ two punt returns in the second half — for 35 and 28 yards — came on errors by the Panthers’ coverage that allowed the Huskies returner ample running room. Both returns set up touchdowns by the Huskies’ offense, which had done little beforehand.
“They really did a good job with their returns,” Miles said. “We weren’t supposed to kick the ball in bounds. All week long, we knew they had a good return team. We said we we’re going to punt the ball out of bounds, and you punt it right down the center of the field. All of a sudden, the ball is starting on the 20 and 10 going in. They did a great job of just turning it up.”
Arbuckle passed for only 10 yards in the second half, finishing with 194 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions on 21 of 33 passing.
“In the second half, we completely lost the field position battle,” Arbuckle said. “We struggled to get first downs offensively. They started every single series on our side of the field so it was a tough uphill battle there in the second half.”
So, what began as what Petersen called “very uninspired football” in the first half, transformed into a dominant finish by Washington.
That the Panthers led by two touchdowns in the first half didn’t mean anything to Miles.
“I thought that we had a whole half to go, so it really didn’t matter,” Miles said. “It’s four quarters, man, not just two.”