Game 3 Preview: Arkansas State
WR Sam Pinckney III attempts to evade a defender during the 2019 contest versus Arkansas State. Pinckney’s 2020 performances have been a valuable component of a renewed Panthers offense that will look to come out of Jonesboro with a win Thursday. Photo: Jordan Crawford for THERSdayNight.com
The Georgia State Panthers (1-1, 0-1 Sun Belt) will head on the road for their first away game of the season, facing off against the Arkansas State Red Wolves (2-2, 0-1 in Sun Belt). The Panthers will come off their bye week looking for their second win in a row after defeating the East Carolina Pirates two weeks ago. This week’s matchup against the Red Wolves will be the Panthers’ second crack at a Sun Belt opponent, and they will look to keep pace in the Sun Belt East race by securing their first conference win. Arkansas State are looking for their second win in a row after beating FCS opponent the Central Arkansas Bears last week. The Red Wolves will attempt to reverse their conference fortunes and pick up their first conference win after dropping their Sun Belt opener to Coastal Carolina two weeks ago. Something’s gotta give – perfect for a Thursday evening in the Sun Belt.
Arkansas State is led by head coach Blake Anderson, who has steered the Red Wolves to a 49-31 record during his seven seasons at the university. While the Red Wolves did lose their first Sun Belt game, they do have a statement win this season against Big 12 opponent Kansas State. Given Anderson’s track record and their big upset win, one should not look past the Red Wolves despite their inconsistent play so far in 2020.
The Red Wolves’ offensive scheme is unique in that they feature two quarterbacks who trade offensive series regardless of result. Redshirt junior Logan Bonner might be listed as QB1, but his redshirt sophomore counterpart Layne Hatcher sees just as much time. Regardless of who is under center, the offense is functionally the same – most of the Red Wolves’ damage comes through the air. Both QBs like to throw the ball frequently and all over the field. It certainly helps when your receiving corps features Preseason All-Sun Belt selection Jonathan Adams. Adams is a 6’5” speedster who will be a primary point of emphasis for the Panthers defense to key in on. Opposite of Adams is a strong receiver in his own right, Oklahoma transfer Dahu Green. The pair make up almost 50% of the Red Wolves’ offense, so containing both will be important for Georgia State.
On defense, the Red Wolves run a system very similar to Georgia State in terms of scheme. David Duggan is in his second year as defensive coordinator for the Red Wolves, and so far the defense has not been the bright spot to open the 2020 season. Opposing offenses have held the ball almost 11 more minutes per game than the Red Wolves through their first four games, and a large part of that is the Red Wolves’ poor third-down rate. Red Wolves opponents are converting third downs on average 46.6% of the time. They also rank last in the Sun Belt giving up 456.5 yards per game. There are bright spots, however. LB Justin Rice, who transferred from Fresno State, has recorded almost 10 tackles for a loss and already has 4 sacks. The Red Wolves also have recorded the most takeaways in the conference, securing 7 turnovers. Bending and not breaking is a perilous game in college football, but so far for the Red Wolves, it has led to two victories.
It’s fairly routine for the Georgia State offense at this point, but running the ball will, of course, be key for the Panthers. The Panthers will need their running backs to have good ball security and to be effective at moving the chains against Arkansas State. Opponents have all beaten the Red Wolves in the time of possession game, and the game plan for Georgia State should be very similar – pass on early downs, use the run to convert shorter down and distances for first downs. Georgia State QB Quad Brown should have success in the passing game, as the Red Wolves defense has allowed each QB they’ve faced to throw for at least 280 yards and multiple touchdowns, but ball security will be key. Brown has been excellent through two games for Georgia State but has had a tendency to stare down his targets. He has thrown three interceptions in the two games played so far. A clean sheet in the turnover column for the Panthers should help them out-muscle a weaker Red Wolves defense.
This game is going to be a tough test for the Panthers defense, specifically in the secondary. The Red Wolves aren’t exactly one-dimensional, but their preference is to beat teams by air. They average a touch under 350 yards a game from their dual QBs, so one can expect that Bonner and Hatcher will look to air it out against the Panthers secondary. It will be on Qua White and company to make plays against the Red Wolves big receiving targets and get off the field as much as possible. Georgia State is not a heavy blitzing team, but it will be even more important that they bring pressure with as few bodies as possible. Keeping the Red Wolves offense on the sidelines for as long as possible will go a long way to helping Georgia State secure a win.
In this, Georgia State’s first Thursday night game in just under two years, the Panthers have a golden opportunity to steal a road win against a conference opponent. The schedule doesn’t get any easier the next few weeks for Georgia State, so securing their first conference win might be just the momentum builder they need to make a run in a competitive Sun Belt East Division. If the Panthers play similar to how they have played through the first two games this season, they should have no trouble securing a win in Jonesboro. Kick-off will be at 7:30pm EDT from Centennial Bank Stadium and the game will be nationally broadcast on ESPN.