2021 Game 11 Preview: Arkansas State

Terrance Dixon hurdles an Appalachian State defender in Georgia State’s home loss to the Mountaineers during the 2021 season. Photo: Jordan Crawford for THERSdayNight.com

The Georgia State Panthers (5-5, 4-2 in Sun Belt) head home to begin their final home stand of the season as they welcome the Arkansas State Red Wolves (2-8, 1-5 in Sun Belt) to Centre Parc Credit Union Stadium. Georgia State returns to Atlanta in prime position to secure their third straight bowl eligible season after upsetting AP-ranked #22 Coastal Carolina 42-40, securing the program’s first ranked victory. Arkansas State saw their first taste of victory in the conference last week, securing a 27-24 win on the road against Louisiana Monroe. It’s been a tough go for Arkansas State, as that win snapped an 8-game losing streak for them. Butch Jones is in his first season as the Red Wolves’ head man. He is 2-8 so far in his tenure in Jonesboro. With a victory against Arkansas State, Georgia State will secure its third consecutive bowl eligible season and appear in their fourth bowl game in five seasons under head coach Shawn Elliott. 

Georgia State was the beneficiary of an injury to a starting quarterback in the Sun Belt, and this week will be going up against another backup who should be familiar. Layne Hatcher will be the starter for Arkansas State in place of James Blackman, who has been out since October 7th with a variety of health and personal-related issues. Regardless of who has been under center for Arkansas State, they have been incredibly successful at moving the ball via the air. Blackman hasn’t played in a month and he is still 7th in the conference in total passing yards. His backup Hatcher is 5th, at a hair under 2,000 through 9 games. Arkansas State not only likes to pass the ball, but they do so successfully. About 61% of their offense is passing plays, and they lead the Sun Belt conference in passing yards per game at 322. Georgia State’s secondary will need to bring their A-game to keep from getting burned as they did when these teams faced off in 2020. Opportunities for turnovers should be there,  as Arkansas State’s quarterbacks have thrown 15 interceptions this season. Teams have been able to force bad throws out of Arkansas State and Georgia State should look to continue that trend. 

What makes Arkansas State so effective at passing the ball is having three quality receivers in Corey Rucker, Te’Vailance Hunt and Jeff Foreman, but also their lackluster rushing attack. Despite allowing a conference-worst 37 sacks so far this season, the offensive line holds up just enough to allow the receivers the time and space needed to get open. Although that hasn’t translated into a ton of points, Arkansas State is still scoring at a respectable 26 points per game. Of their two sides of the ball, the offense is clearly the stronger side, as one-dimensional as it may seem. If Georgia State’s front seven can live in the Red Wolves’ backfield and the secondary can defend for 5 seconds on each play, Georgia State should have success defending against the aerial assault Arkansas State is likely to provide. 

Offensively for Georgia State,  the goals will be as they always are – run the ball well and use timely passes to confuse and break down defenses. Quarterback Darren Grainger had arguably his best game of the season against Coastal Carolina a week ago, but don’t be too surprised if his passing contributions look more like the Charlotte game.  While they might not be on their historic pace anymore, Arkansas State’s defense has been historically bad this season and are giving up 264 rushing yards per game. Teams are averaging 6.5 yards per rush against them, and it has easily contributed to their conference-worst mark in points allowed. Louisiana-Lafayette and Georgia Southern combined for almost 1,000 rushing yards against them, and while it cannot be foreseen that Georgia State will break any single game NCAA rushing records, expect a heavy dosage of Tucker Gregg, Jam Williams and the Panther Express to feature in this one. Only Coastal Carolina has rushed more per game than the Panthers, so it shouldn’t be a surprise if one of the backs has a career day. 

Georgia State’s season goals are still in front of them, and should the Sun Belt truly become #FunBelt this season, it will require Georgia State to win this game and get some help from fellow Sun Belt East team Troy this week. Arkansas State has only lost in this series once, back in 2019, so despite these teams headed in different directions on paper, there are no gimmies in college football.  Kickoff between Georgia State and Arkansas State is at 2pm at Center Parc Stadium and can be found on ESPN3.

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