ATLANTA — When Ben McLane hit Albert Wilson for 22 yards on the first play of the game, it looked like Georgia State just might be ready to build off its first victory of the season a week earlier. Then the reality of facing Villanova -- rather than lowly Rhode Island -- quickly set in.
By the time the Panthers got their second first down Saturday, No. 24-ranked Villanova (6-2) led 21-0 and was well on its way to a 49-24 victory.
"Obviously, we didn't learn what we should have," GSU coach Bill Curry said. " ... A good Villanova team pushed us around all day. ... I don't have an explanation. I don't have an excuse."
"We're all frustrated ourselves," said McLane, the redshirt freshman quarterback from Brookwood. "Everyone is frustrated. We do one good thing and then we shoot ourselves in the foot and go backwards."
It certainly wasn't the kind of homecoming effort that GSU (1-7) was hoping for, but at least there weren't that many Panthers fans in the Georgia Dome to watch it.
The attendance was generously announced as 12,136 and the student section was nearly empty when the Panthers scored two late touchdowns to keep the score from looking too lopsided.
GSU moves up to the Sun Belt Conference and the top rung of the NCAA next season. But the Panthers are taking their lumps at the FCS level in the Colonial Athletic Association during their third season.
"It's way beyond frustrating," said senior tight end Emmanuel Ogbuehi from Mill Creek, who caught a late TD pass from McLane. "It's getting old. Too many mistakes and not executing. ... If we continue this way, it is going to be the same result."
Donald Russell ran for a school-record 211 yards and McLane seemed to be coming into his own in the 41-7 victory at Rhode Island last Saturday. But Russell hurt his knee late in the first quarter against Villanova and McLane's play was up and down.
McLane, who had started the first four games, regained his spot from fellow redshirt freshman Ronnie Bell against Rhode Island and was 14 of 25 for 213 yards and two TDs with no turnovers and no sacks against the Rams.
Against Villanova, McLane was 21-for-37 passing for 164 yards and a TD, but threw two interceptions. One was returned for a TD and another set up a score.
But it was defensive and special team breakdowns that drew comments like "ridiculous" and "unconsciousable" from Curry.
The game was decided early. Villanova sandwiched scoring drives of 86 and 80 yards around a 66-yard punt return for a TD by Poppy Livers to lead 21-0 less than a minute into the second quarter.
Wil Lusk kicked a 34-yard field goal to get Georgia State on the board, but then Eric Loper picked off McLane and returned the interception for a 32-yard TD.
Only a 9-yard TD run by Travis Evans late in the second quarter made the halftime score look a little more presentable at 35-10.
Villanova drove 65 yards the first time it had the ball in the third quarter and John Robertson threw his second TD pass. Robertson, who ran for the Wildcats' first TD, gave way after that to Chris Polony and the backup threw a 15-yard TD pass early in the fourth quarter after McLane's second interception.
But McLane got the TD back with a 3-yard toss to Ogbuehi to climax a 70-yard drive. It was the second TD catch for the senior from Mill Creek, who has 12 catches in the past three games.
Bell came in for McLane late and teamed with Wilson on a 55-yard TD pass.
GSU plays at James Madison next Saturday, then hosts Old Dominion and record-setting quarterback Taylor Heinicke of Collins Hill on Nov. 3 in Curry's final home game. The Panthers finish the season at Maine the following week.
We've got some work ... to do to finish the season with some dignity." Curry said. "But we're going to have to be a whole lot better than today."