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Happy return for South Alabama's Matthews

South Alabama’s offensive coordinator Robert Matthews stands on the sideline during Tennessee’s 31-24 win over South Alabama at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tenn., earlier this season. (Special photo: Scott Donaldson)

South Alabama’s offensive coordinator Robert Matthews stands on the sideline during Tennessee’s 31-24 win over South Alabama at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tenn., earlier this season. (Special photo: Scott Donaldson)

ATLANTA — It was a highly successful homecoming for Robert Matthews, a former Duluth player and Shiloh coach who is now offensive coordinator at South Alabama.

Unfortunately for Georgia State, it came at the expensive of the winless Panthers.

Shavarez Smith caught 10 passes from Ross Metheny for 194 yards and a touchdown as South Alabama routed Georgia State 38-17 on Saturday at the Georgia Dome for a disappointing end to Trent Miles’ disappointing first season as Panthers coach.

Matthews’ spread offensive, which has Buford graduate Shaun Artz at right guard, rolled up 522 yards in dropping Georgia State to 0-12 overall for the season and 0-7 in its first year as a member of the Sun Belt Conference.

“It was exciting to come home and have friends and family in the stands,” said Matthews, who needed 30 tickets. “Personally, it was really neat for me. But more importantly, we played well and got a good victory.”

South Alabama now a chance for a winning record in the Sun Belt Conference and bowl eligibility with an upset of first-place Louisiana-Lafayette in Mobile next Saturday.

South Alabama (5-6, 3-3) began football in 2009 — a year before Georgia State — and moved up to the Football Bowl Subdivision last year, when it won just two games.

The Jaguars, though, prevailed 41-39 at Tulane in the second game this season and gave Tennessee a scare before falling 31-24 at Knoxville in late September.

Matthews, who turned 36 on Nov. 2, came to South Alabama as offensive coordinator and line coach last season after two years on the staff at Southern Mississippi following four seasons at Oklahoma State.

“It been great to see these guys evolve,” Matthews said. “The second year in a system is always better and our guys are playing well right now.”

Matthews was head coach at Shiloh from 2003 through 2005 after serving for two years as offensive coordinator at North Gwinnett.

Matthews and his wife, former Georgia golfer Laura Henderson, have one child. Daughter Lilly turned one in April.

“I get to see her about two nights a week. That’s part of the profession,” Matthews said. “But we really like Mobile. It’s a nice town.”

Matthews was a walk-on at Georgia for three seasons in the late 1990s and played on a Bulldogs team that defeated Virginia in the former Peach Bowl at the Georgia Dome.

Georgia State hasn’t had much success there and it was a dismal ending for 26 seniors, including 17 who played in the Panthers’ first game — a 41-7 victory over Shorter on Sept. 2, 2010.

Georgia State has just nine wins since – one against South Alabama in 2011 — and is 1-22 the last two years.

For North Gwinnett’s Scott McQueen, the team’s long snapper, and John Kelly, a reserve linebacker from Norcross, things went sour again after the pregame ceremonies honored them and the other seniors.

Georgia State will take a 16-game losing streak into next season. The Panthers’ last victory came at Rhode Island on Oct. 13, 2012.

South Alabama had 306 yards to 108 for Georgia State while taking a 24-3 halftime lead. Jay Jones had touchdowns runs of 5 and 17 yards in the first quarter, and Metheny scored on a dive from a yard out in the second.

Smith caught a 37-yard TD pass from Metheny on the Jaguars’ first possession of the third quarter and reserves played the fourth after Kendall Houston scored from a yard out following a 1-yard TD from Panthers quarterback Ronnie Bell.

Metheny finished 19-for-28 passing for 280 yards and also had 50 nets yards rushing. Jones carried 17 times for 102 yards.

“We’ve tweaked some things with the run game, but it’s basically the same offense as when I was at Oklahoma State and Southern Miss,” Matthews said. “The thing with the spread is to go fast.”

The Panthers made final the score look a little closer than the game actually was on a 1-yard plunge from Sean Jeppensen with three minutes left in the game.

Record-setting Georgia State senior Albert Wilson had an 80-yard reception from Bell to set up the Panthers’ third-quarter TD and finished with 101 yards on six catches. Bell completed 17 of 34 passes for 321 yards.

It was a lot more enjoyable day for Matthews and Southern Alabama than the Panthers, though.

“My whole family is from here so it was really fun to come back,” Matthews said.