A new season has arrived and tomorrow begins another quest for glory, as the Georgia State Panthers (0-0) open up their 12th campaign by hosting the Army Black Knights (0-0). Georgia State is led by fifth-year head coach Shawn Elliott while Jeff Monken is in charge in West Point for the eighth year running. The expectations for the 2021 Panthers are some of the highest in program history, as Georgia State returns a large number of starters on both sides of the ball along with almost their entire coaching apparatus from the 2020 season. The 2020 Panthers went 6-4, finishing 3rd in the Sun Belt East and capped off their season with a 39-21 victory in the 2020 LendingTree Bowl over Western Kentucky. Georgia State is looking to improve upon that record and hope to be competing for a Sun Belt Championship come December. The Black Knights enjoyed a nice bounceback season in 2020 after a disappointing 2019 campaign, finishing with a 9-3 record. Their season ended in a close loss to West Virginia in the 2020 AutoZone Liberty Bowl. These two teams have played in one prior contest, a 28-21 victory for the Panthers back in 2019 at the then-named Georgia State Stadium.
The story for the Panthers is the same as it’s been for the past few years. They want to run a ton of plays on offense and provide a balanced attack between running and passing the ball. With redshirt sophomore Quad Brown at quarterback and a running back by committee led by Destin Coates and Tucker Gregg, the Panthers have a strong group of players capable of dominating almost any defense. Prolific scoring might have to wait a week, though, as the MO for the Panthers’ offense this week will be to maximize their offensive possessions by scoring with efficiency. In the 2019 contest, excluding their final drive entirely from the victory formation, the Panthers had seven offensive possessions the entire game. They held the ball for just under 22 minutes in that contest, but they managed to score on four of the six drives. Since Army is a triple option offense, their game plan is simply to hold onto the ball as long as possible and grind opponents down. For Georgia State to be successful on offense, Quad and co need to minimize the turnovers and treat each drive as if it could be their only opportunity to score in the quarter, which it very well might be.
Historically, the Panthers have done well against triple option teams, but they will have their work cut out for them this week. Army has not announced a starting QB, but expect to see both junior Thyier Tyler and senior Christian Anderson behind center. Tyler received the majority of the carries in 2020 and rushed for almost 83 yards per game. Behind them is a duo of running backs in Jakobi Buchanan and Tyrell Robinson who combined for a hair over 800 yards. Georgia State defenders must remain disciplined when deciding which of the four will carry the ball, as a big part of what makes option teams so successful is deception. Georgia State has plenty of experience with this, as their rivals Georgia Southern also run a similar offense. As far as the Panthers’ run defense went in 2020, they were great as a unit. The defense as a whole gave up only 3.9 yards per carry, good for second in the Sun Belt conference and a school record. Army averaged almost 5 yards per carry on the ground in 2020, so it will be important for the Panthers to find a way to contain them. The Georgia State front seven will have some new faces in it this week, but the goal remains the same. Sound tackling and keeping guys in front will be the name of the game. The defensive backs might not have much to do on the outside given that Army averaged 6 pass attempts per game in 2020, but they still have an important job as well. Look for Dontae Willson and Hardrick Willis to make their presence felt in the Black Knight backfield.
The expectations in Atlanta are shifting. After back-to-back record setting offensive years, Georgia State is primed to take an even bigger step under Coach Elliott. The talent is improving, and so the expectations move up with it. The Panthers lost their season opener last season and still managed to find their way to a bowl game by season’s end, but the 2021 campaign is far less forgiving if the Panthers want to achieve their goals. If they can continue to be effective against the run and minimize the mistakes on offense, they will open their season 1-0 in their quest for a conference championship. Kickoff from Center Parc Stadium is at noon and you can catch the action on ESPNU.