In its eighth season as a program, the Panthers are sorely lacking two things: Confidence and money. It's trying to remedy the latter with out of conference games against the likes of West Virginia this week, Alabama later this season and Washington, Clemson and Oregon in the next two years. And while that's not a recipe for building confidence, it is one that's financially necessary, with the Mountaineers paying GSU $550,000 for the game.
"We are going to be challenged by an excellent football team," Panthers' head coach Trent Miles said. "Everybody had a chance, at least on our side, to see their game against Oklahoma, so we know what we are in for and our kids should be very excited to go and compete against a team that's in the Big 12 and a BCS conference. It should be a huge challenge for us to compare ourselves to teams considered BCS schools. We are looking forward to it.
"And," he added, "we're going to go get a big paycheck."
Miles is well aware of the monetary and talent challenges at Georgia State, an Atlanta-based school that elevated to the FBS just this year. It hasn't had much recent success, going 1-10 last year and starting 0-2 against Samford and UT-Chattanooga this season. But it's not the lack of scoreboard success that's bothering Miles; rather, it's his team's apparent willingness to mentally crumble at early signs of adversity.
"I don't think we played hard enough (in the 42-14 loss to UTC)," said Miles, in his first season at GSU after going 20-36 in five seasons at Indiana State. "I think our expectation was to play harder than we did. I don't feel like our kids played as hard as they possibly could. I think they got down when UT-Chattanooga took the lead on us and was able to run the ball on us as well as they were. I thought they got a little demoralized and hung their heads, which affected how they performed. As I have said before, when young men don't look like they are playing as hard as they can, it makes you look bad talent-wise, and that's what happened."
Georgia State has amassed some decent skill, and it returns four upperclassmen in the secondary. But it has still struggled, allowing an average of 253 rushing yards and 151 pass yards per game. The passing numbers would likely be worse, save for teams quickly building a lead, then turning to the ground game to melt clock. Frankly, there isn't much of a reason West Virginia – despite its offensive inconsistency – shouldn't move the ball easily. Miles is aware of the talent deficit, and isn't hesitant to honestly expound upon his expectations for Saturday.
"We want to go out and compete against a team that is considered outstanding and give everything we've got," Miles said. "We want to go out and execute the best of our ability and take care of the football. … To play for us, you have to have a love for the game and have some passion. You gotta go out there and put it all on the line, every play and every down. We are still in the process of evaluating and determining from some of our players. Even if it's only 11 guys – we are going to put at least 11 guys on that plane – and we are going to go in there and play as hard as we can possibly play. That's how we are going to judge this week."
Refreshing, really. Miles, an alum of Indiana State, started as a graduate assistant at the school before similar positions at New Mexico and Oklahoma, the latter in 1990. Ten years later, Miles was the offensive assistant for quality control for the Green Bay Packers of the NFL for a season, then coached receivers at Stanford and Notre Dame and running backs at Washington. The 50-year-old is as seasoned as they come, and he has a straight-forward approach and easy demeanor – if he gets the effort demanded. That's something that was badly lacking for Georgia State last week, and Miles acknowledged the coaching staff must "go back to stage one.
"I thought we were past stage one after the first game about teaching them to compete," said Miles, in his first season at GSU. "Obviously, I was wrong, so we are back to stage one and teaching guys to compete every play and every down, even when things don't go their way. There will be changes. We are still working around trying to get the right guys on the field who give great effort and play as hard as they can at all times. I'm sure we will make some changes. We will see how this week plays out and how we practice and who is doing what in practice (before tweaking the line-up)."
Miles said Georgia State might even put walk-ons in if a player has shown great effort.
"Again, this is a process now. It's not going to happen overnight," Miles said. "We will go through it the right way and build it the right way and guys are going to learn to play hard and learn to love the game or they are not going to play. … Anytime you haven't had a lot of success, you are in a fragile state. We had guys out there where it was only their second college game. They are learning on the run, learning to handle it. Then, you have guys who have been around who haven't had a lot off success, and they are probably more fragile than the young guys. You gotta try to change that culture, that mindset, to keep them up. I was disappointed, but not disheartened where I'm taken aback by it. I have seen it before. We as coaches have to keep coaching them and play the ones who want to play really hard and who love the game and will go out there and play for their teammates."