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Tra Barnett, The Missing Link

By Jim Johnson
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Georgia State has never had a back like Tra Barnett.

Georgia State has never had a back like Tra Barnett.

For a program still in its relative infancy, that may not sound like much, but there’s never even been anyone close.

He has proven to be the piece that was missing all along.

The senior entered Georgia State’s matchup with Troy with 1,389 career rushing yards, just 111 shy of Travis Evans’ school record.

Yet, despite hitting the century mark in four of his last five times out, it was no guarantee that he would reach the 1,500 yard milestone against the Trojans, who entered the contest ranked first in the Sun Belt and 11th in the nation in both rushing yards per game and yards per carry allowed.

On 1st and 10, from the Troy 27-yard line, on the Panthers’ first possession of the second half, however, he captured the record, and moved the chains, on a 14 yard dash. Five plays later, Dan Ellington punched it in from a yard out to push the home team’s lead to 35-14.

At that point, Barnett was sitting at 124 yards with a touchdown. It was his fourth consecutive 100+ yard performance. By the time the clock read zeroes, he was at 242 with a pair of scores. Not only did that mark Barnett’s first ever 200+ rushing yard game, but it was also the first for any Panther, at least since joining the FBS ranks.

It’s not just the raw production, though, that has been missing in Georgia State’s rushing attacks of yesteryear. Yes, that’s been a problem, too -- he also broke the single-season school record against Troy, although that was pretty low bar to clear, previously at just 747 yards.

The efficiency with which he’s compiled the production is what really stands out. Prior to this season, even at a low minimum threshold of 25 carries, the highest average clip for any GSU ball carrier was Demarcus Kirk’s 5.8 YPC, on exactly 25 runs, in 2017.

Bump the minimum up to 50 attempts, and Seth Paige’s freshman season, last year, at 5.7 YPC becomes the leader. Keep raising the threshold, and the efficiency continues to drop, and increasingly precipitously at that.

In fact, since joining the FBS, only one other Panther running back has had as many carries in a single season as Barnett already has -- Glenn Smith, in 2017. Smith averaged merely 3.5 yards per attempt that year. Barnett is now at about 6.4 YPA, not far from from effectively doubling him up.

There have been some effective Georgia State offenses in the past, but, even at their best, they were always one-dimensional. And, at their worst, when the passing game wasn’t there, they were zero-dimensional.

Now, with Dan Ellington behind center, a pair of upper echelon receivers on the perimeter, two dynamic tight ends, a much improved offensive line led by multiyear standouts Shamarious Gilmore and Hunter Atkinson, as well as an emerging all-conference caliber center in Malik Sumter, and of course Barnett, along with an excellent complementary back in Seth Paige, this offense is the total package.

Against an elite Troy run defense, Barnett had a night to remember. With four conference games left, plus a bowl game that was secured with the win, there’s still plenty of time for him to continue to separate from the pack.

Having already secured a place in history, Tra Barnett is running away from the competition on the field, and in the record books.

Jim Johnson - Editor of Southern Pigskin, Producer of "Three & Out", and host of "Explosive Recruiting" on the Southern Pigskin Radio Network. E-mail: Twitter: @JimJohnsonSP