2021 Game 12 Preview: Troy

RB Jamyest Williams rushes in the Panthers’ victory over Georgia Southern earlier in 2021. Photo: Jordan Crawford for THERSdayNight.com

The Georgia State Panthers (6-5, 5-2 in Sun Belt) finish their regular season with a Senior Day matchup against the Troy Trojans (5-6, 3-4 in Sun Belt). Georgia State is fresh off a 28-20 victory against Arkansas State a week ago, which secured their third straight season of bowl eligibility. This marks the fourth time in five seasons Georgia State has been eligible for postseason play in head coach Shawn Elliott’s tenure. Troy comes over to Atlanta after suffering a 45-7 loss to Appalachian State. This will be the first game after Chip Lindsey’s firing from the program and defensive coordinator Brandon Hall will serve as the Trojans’ interim head coach. With a victory against Troy, Georgia State will secure their sixth conference win which would be a single season program high.

Despite having a rough go of it over the past month, Troy’s defense has been the stronger side of the ball all season and should pose a significant challenge for Georgia State. Troy is averaging 25.1 points allowed per game and only allowing 133.36 rushing yards per game. They’ve held 5 of their 11 opponents under 100 rushing yards this season. While they have been strong throughout this season, when faced with some tougher offenses in the last month, the cracks have started to show in their ability to cover the ground game. They have allowed over 200 rushing yards in three of their last four games, and if Georgia State is going to be successful in this one, they will want that trend to continue. The other strength of this Troy defense is their ability to get after opposing quarterbacks. They lead the Sun Belt conference with 36 sacks and have a pair of bandit rushers in Javon Solomon and Richard Jibunor who will make their presence felt on the field. Solomon leads the team with 11 sacks, while Jibunor is right behind him with 8. Both are top 25 in the country for total sacks. In seven conference games, Georgia State has allowed only 13 sacks, which is good for 3rd in the Sun Belt. If the Panthers are able to keep QB Darren Grainger upright when passing and keep Troy out of the backfield, their chances to win should be high. 

Offensively, Troy has struggled to put up points this season, and one reason for their lack of offensive firepower is their lack of rushing success. Troy averages just over 100 rushing yards per game and have only had 3 individual 100-yard rushing performances this season. Kimani Vidal is Troy’s leading rusher with 676 yards and 5 touchdowns. No other player has more than 500 yards, which has significantly hampered Troy’s ability to move the ball. Quarterback Gunnar Watson took over the starting job on October 9th against Georgia Southern and has had some success moving the ball through the air. In Watson’s six games as a starter, he has completed 119 of his 190 passes (62.6%), thrown for 1,257 yards and 8 touchdowns. Georgia State has had success forcing QBs to force passes and commit turnovers in recent weeks, and while the pass rush might speed up Watson’s timing, it cannot be expected that Watson will cough up the ball many times. Watson has thrown only two interceptions this season and lost two fumbles despite putting it on the ground a total of four times. 

This will be Georgia State’s toughest defensive opponent since they faced Appalachian State, but despite that challeng,  the Panthers are going to want to move the ball on the ground early and often. With both Tucker Gregg and Jamyest Williams nearing 1,000 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns apiece, the way for Georgia State to win will be finding success on the ground. If they can’t find success on the ground, it might be a tough go round for the Panthers. Grainger has had both good and bad passing days in the past few weeks, but the junior signal caller has not thrown for over 200 yards since the Texas State game five weeks ago. He’s only thrown one interception in that time, and if he protects the ball well against Troy, it will give Georgia State a great chance of winning, but the passing game is unlikely to be what gets them over the hump in this one. As has been the case more often than not this season, the Panther Express moves as the blocking and running backs move it. 

This is an important game for both teams. Troy is looking to secure their first bowl eligible season since 2018 and Georgia State is looking to tie their single season wins record, while also securing their most conference wins in a single season. Kickoff for Georgia State’s Senior Day festivities is at 2pm EST and can be found on television at ESPN+.

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