2020 Game 10 Preview: LendingTree Bowl vs. Western Kentucky
Demarcus Kirk scores a TD against Western Kentucky in the 2017 AutoNation Cure Bowl. The Panthers defeated the Hilltoppers 27-17 in Orlando, Florida. Photo: Todd Drexler for Sideline Sports
The Georgia State Panthers (5-4, 4-4 in Sun Belt) head over to Mobile, Alabama to take on the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (5-6, 4-3 in C-USA) in the 2020 LendingTree Bowl. Georgia State has not seen the field since their 30-24 come-from-behind win against rival Georgia Southern back on November 28th. Western Kentucky hasn’t played in 20 days, after they defeated Charlotte 37-19 back on December 6th in their regular season finale. This is a rematch of the 2017 Cure Bowl in Orlando, Florida, which Georgia State won 27-17 for their first-ever bowl victory.
This is the fourth bowl game in Georgia State’s short 10-year history and the first time in program history that Georgia State has made a bowl appearance in consecutive seasons. The Panthers were defeated by Wyoming 38-17 in the 2019 Arizona Bowl. Shawn Elliott has been the head coach of Georgia State for three of the four bowl games and has a 1-1 record in bowls heading into the game today. With a win today, the Panthers would return their bowl record to an even .500.
Western Kentucky is coached by second-year head coach Tyson Helton. Helton led the Hilltoppers to a 9-4 record in 2019 and a 5-6 record in 2020. The Hilltoppers started their 2020 season slowly, losing four of their first five games. Helton and company righted the ship, though, as the Hilltoppers finished the season winning four of six to find themselves in the LendingTree Bowl.
As is their MO, Georgia State is going to pound the ground game against the Hilltoppers all afternoon. Western Kentucky gave up 166 yards on the ground per game, good for 68th in the country. In their six losses, Hilltoppers’ opponents rushed for an average of 204 yards per game. Given Georgia State’s success with running the ball, that bodes well for the Panthers, especially after Georgia Southern held them to their lowest rushing output of the season. Don’t be surprised to see the running backs and offensive line play with a little extra juice in them this afternoon. Ball security will be important, as the Hilltoppers don’t turn the ball over a ton. If the ground game is working but the Panthers are fumbling, that will pose a problem. This will be Quad’s first bowl game and it comes with a pretty significant test. The Hilltoppers led the country in passes broken up, and if the freshman QB isn’t careful with his throws, the Hilltoppers secondary will have no problems batting them out of the air for incompletions.
On the other side, the Hilltoppers are led on offense by Maryland grad transfer Tyrell Pigrome. Pigrome had a decent 2020 season, totaling 1700 yards, 12 total TDs and throwing 0 interceptions. Western Kentucky has been more run-first this year to mixed success, but Gaej Walker has emerged as a talented back for them, totaling 614 rushing yards through 11 games. The offense struggled to get going much this season, only averaging 18.8 points over the course of the year. However, the Hilltoppers did eclipse 35 points in back to back games against FIU and Charlotte to end the season. Getting Pigrome in space and moving him away from Georgia State pressure would go a long way to helping the Hilltoppers keep pace with the high-powered Panther offense.
Tune in to ESPN at 3:30pm as the Panthers take on the Hilltoppers from Ladd-Peebles Stadium in the 2020 LendingTree Bowl.