Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Georgia State quarterback Ben McLane (16) gets sacked by South Carolina State Andrew Carter (41) during college football action at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta on Thursday. McLane a Brookwood graduate made his first college start at quarterback during the GSU opener but left the game and appeared injured.
ATLANTA -- If there was one way to sum up Thursday night's season-opening 33-6 loss to South Carolina State at the Georgia Dome, Georgia State head football coach Bill Curry probably found it.
"Just about everything that can happen did," Curry said bluntly at one point during his postgame press conference.
Curry was actually referring to a key sequence late in the first half, when the Panthers (0-1) had a chance to either pull to within a point or take the lead, and instead headed into halftime down 14-3.
But he might as well have been talking about most of the evening.
The Bulldogs (1-0) outgained the Panthers in total offense 488-229, posted 25 first downs to just 12 for GSU and recorded six quarterback sacks, five of which were of redshirt freshman Ben McLane in his first collegiate start.
"Clearly a huge disappointment," Curry said. "We just made too many mistakes. We let (South Carolina State) off the hook. They played well, and did a lot of things well -- better than we did."
The Panthers' troubles started on the game's third play, when cornerback Isaiah Howard stumbled on the Georgia Dome's FieldTurf, allowing Lennel Elmore to haul in Richard Cue's bomb and sprint untouched for a 72-yard touchdown that gave SCSU an early 7-0 lead that it would never relinquish.
And the GSU offense struggled to keep pace the rest of the night despite a strong effort from running back Donald Russell, who ran for 120 yards on 12 carries.
Both McLane and backup Kelton Hill found it difficult to get any rhythm going faced with a ferocious SCSU pass rush.
It was far from the ideal scenario Curry had hoped for McLane, a Brookwood grad seeing his first collegiate action.
"We didn't protect well," Curry said. "Both quarterbacks were having a rough time (Thursday) night. I'm not sure (McLane) really got a fair chance to show what he can do. Balls were dropped and protection wasn't adequate. The running game was good in flashes, but not what it should've been."
Indeed, it was a night that very little went right for McLane, who was unavailable to the media following the game while receiving treatment for slightly bruised ribs suffered late in the fourth quarter.
He finished the night completing just 7 of 15 passes for 54 yards, while Hill was 7 of 13 with an interception for 76 yards and added 22 yards on the ground.
Yet despite their troubles, the Panthers still had chances to get back in the game after the early deficit.
A 36-yard field goal by Matt Ehsatz cut the SCSU lead to just 7-3 with 6:33 left in the first half, and the Panthers got another scoring opportunity when Brent McClendon picked off a Cue pass and set GSU up at the Bulldogs' 23-yard line.
But the drive stalled and Ehsatz's 24-yard field goal attempt clanked off the right upright, and a fumble on another sack of McLane late in the first half set up a late touchdown pass from Cue to Tyler McDonald that sent SCSU into halftime with a more comfortable 14-3 lead.
Those kind of missed opportunities would be a recurring theme, as GSU took the second half kickoff and drove 64 yards in 12 plays behind Hill down to the SCSU 8.
Once again, the drive stalled in the red zone, the Panthers had to settle for another Ehstaz's field goal, and the Bulldogs immediately answered with a touchdown on their ensuing possession to widen the gap even further.
Between those missed opportunities and the problems in pass protection, it gave the GSU offensive line a lot to work on next week in practice.
"(SCSU) didn't do anything that we didn't practice," redshirt junior center Michael Davis said. "We had a lot of good drives going, and we just needed to finish them. I feel like if we could've finished some of those drives, it could've swayed momentum.
"We had a couple of mistakes (in pass protection). ... We just have to come together as a unit and fix those little things, and I believe we will by next week. ... I feel like it's nothing that we can't correct. We will get it corrected."
The Panthers will need to make as many corrections as possible because their next outing will be a week from today against Tennessee at Neyland Stadium.
While playing a member of the mighty Southeastern Conference might seem like a discouraging task given Thursday's outcome, Curry remains undaunted.
And while Thursday's game was very reminiscent of several disappointing losses from last year's 3-8 campaign, he remains convinced this edition of the Panthers has a different make up.
"I don't think you can avoid that comparison," Curry admitted. "But we're not the same group that we were a year ago -- not the same attitude, not the same work ethic. We've drastically improved those things, and now we have to put the performance on the field.
"We have a good football team. We've worked very hard. We will not concede anything. We'll go back to work (Friday) morning and keep working until we perform the way we can."