2020 Game 9 Preview: Georgia Southern
Georgia State defenders bring Georgia Southern QB Shai Werts down in the backfield during the 2019 meeting between the two teams – a 38-10 victory for Georgia Southern that tied the all-time series at 3-3. Photo: Jordan Crawford for THERSdayNight.com
With an opportunity to secure their first back to back winning seasons in program history, the Georgia State Panthers (4-4, 3-4 in Sun Belt) return home to host in state rival Georgia Southern (6-3, 4-2 in Sun Belt) in their final regular season game of 2020. Georgia State moved back to .500 last week after their 31-14 win in Mobile against the South Alabama Jaguars. Georgia Southern saw their 3-game win streak snapped last week after dropping a late season non conference bout with Army 28-27.
Getting the elephant in the room out of the way, Georgia Southern will face Georgia State without Chris Harris Jr, Wesley Kennedy III, Ephraim Kitchen Jr and CJ Wright who were all suspended from team activities this week due to an arrest. The Eagles are also dealing with injuries at a few key positions. Starting QB Shai Werts has been slowed recently with a few nagging injuries, and it would not surprise if backup QB Justin Tomlin were to start in his place. If Werts does see the field, he likely will be less than 100%. Starting RB J.D. King has also missed time recently for the Eagles. King did not play in the Army game, and is expected to be out against Georgia State as well.
Regardless of who lines up opposite the Panthers, in order for Georgia State to secure one more win this season they will have to bring the same defensive intensity that has been on display the past few weeks. Georgia Southern runs a triple-option offense, but historically Georgia State has handled similar style option teams well. The Eagles have the best rushing offense in the Sun Belt as they average 264 yards on the ground per game, but Georgia State is two weeks removed from holding the conference’s second best rushing team to half their normal production on the ground. To date Georgia State’s defense is one of two Sun Belt defenses to allow fewer than 1000 yards on the ground. Georgia Southern is the other team to allow fewer than 1000 rushing yards this season, so this matchup is a heavyweight title fight between two defenses that won’t give up an inch on the ground.
The Eagles will surprise throw a pass every now and then, but don’t expect the usual sack numbers for Georgia State. The Panthers have 17 sacks in their last three games, but this game on paper should not be very pass rush heavy for Georgia State. If the Panthers force Georgia Southern into long down and distances, keep an eye on LB Jordan Strachan. Strachan has the opportunity to become the first Panther with 10 sacks in a single season, and is right on his teammate Hardrick Willis’ tail on the career sacks leaderboard.
After a rough game against Appalachian State, Georgia State QB Quad Brown had a bounce back performance against the Jaguars last week. Despite the 3 turnovers, Brown set a career high in yards and completion percentage. Georgia State will not be able to turn the ball over 4 times as the Eagles will likely capitalize on those mistakes more than the Jaguars did. For the Panthers to win Brown will need to clean up the turnovers and be just as effective in the passing game as he was against the Jaguars. The Panthers love their balanced offensive approach, and while the Eagles have a decent secondary Quad will need to move the ball both through the air and on the air to keep Georgia Southern honest.
It remains to be seen how 2020’s bowl season will go, but a win against rival Georgia Southern secures back to back winning regular seasons for Georgia State, something that the program has never done in its 11 year history. For what Coach Elliot is building at Center Parc Stadium, winning seasons should be the worst case scenario going forwards, and that starts in one of the most highly anticipated matchups of the season.
Kickoff from Center Parc Stadium is set for 12:00pm EST and broadcast on ESPN3 for those who cannot attend in person.