2021 Game 9 Preview: Louisiana

RB Jamyest Williams runs in a score against Texas State. Photo: Jordan Crawford for THERSdayNight.com

The Georgia State Panthers (4-4, 3-1 in Sun Belt) head over to Lafayette, Louisiana to face off against the Louisiana Ragin Cajuns (7-1, 5-0 in Sun Belt), who are ranked #24 in the AP Top 25. Georgia State’s winning streak was extended to three games after their 21-14 win against rival Georgia Southern last week. Louisiana defeated Texas State 45-0 last week, and since dropping their opening contest of the season to Texas have not lost another game this season. If Louisiana defeats Georgia State on Thursday and remains perfect in Sun Belt play, they will clinch their fourth consecutive Sun Belt West title. Georgia State is currently in a three-way tie with Appalachian State and Coastal Carolina for 1st place in the Sun Belt East but do not control their own destiny. To make it to the championship game, Georgia State needs to win out and get some help via an App State loss somewhere. Louisiana is led by head coach Billy Napier in his fourth season. Napier is 35-12 and coming off back to back 10+ win seasons.  Louisiana’s most recent 10-win season led them to co-share the 2020 Sun Belt Championship title after the title game was cancelled due to Covid-19 problems. Georgia State is 0-5 against Louisiana in program history. 

Georgia State will attempt to accomplish what no Sun Belt team has done so far this season, and that is beat Louisiana. To do that, they will need to slow down one of the top teams in the conference. To this point of the season, Louisiana has posted a top three offense and top two defense in the Sun Belt. They are one of three Sun Belt teams to average over 30 points per game and one of two teams to average less than 20 points allowed per game. They’ve scored more than 40 points in two of their last three contests and gave up 13 and 0 points in each of those games respectively. Georgia State has played well in their last 3 games too, especially on the defensive side of the ball. During their three-game winning streak, they’re averaging giving up 17 points a game and have given up 15 points allowed per game in their wins this season. If Georgia State is able to hold Louisiana under 30 points, that bodes well for their ability to pull off the upset. 

As it always is, the offensive game plan for Georgia State will be predicated on a strong rushing attack. Georgia State is up to 220 rushing yards per game, which is 16th nationally and expect a heavy dosage of runs against Louisiana. Army, App State and North Carolina are the only teams that have held Georgia State to under 200 rushing yards in a game this season. This matchup will be strength versus strength, as, through their first 8 games this season, only Georgia Southern have rushed for over 200 yards against the Louisiana defense. It might not be the most stout defense at preventing yards gained, but they have not been burned on the ground a ton this year. Where teams have found more success against them is through the air. Louisiana’s secondary has given up over 240 passing yards four times, including 265 and 359 in their season-opening games against Texas and Nicholls. Since that Nicholls contest, however, they have only given up 200 passing yards twice. But the secondary is a place where QB Darren Grainger and Georgia State need to be able to exploit them. The passing offense has been better since the early season troubles, but even Georgia State head coach Shawn Elliott admitted that the passing game against Southern wasn’t as clean as it should have been, as Grainger missed a few throws he shouldn’t have. He doesn’t need to be perfect, but cleaning that up helps Georgia State immensely. He hasn’t thrown an interception in over three weeks, and that trend needs to continue going forward. 

Louisiana’s game plan seems simple, and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Similar to Georgia State, their offense is run-first. During their current seven-game winning streak, they’ve rushed more than they’ve passed six times, including 53 rushes in their win against Arkansas State two weeks ago. Louisiana’s running back room includes two top-10 backs in the Sun Belt in Chris Smith and Montrell Johnson. Both average around 6 yards per carry and help power a rushing attack that rushes a hair over 200 yards per game. Georgia State’s front seven will need to be disciplined to stop the pair. That’s no easy task, as QB Levi Lewis is also an excellent runner. While he has used his mobility less this season, he still possesses enough mobility to make him a weapon. Where Lewis is normally dangerous is through the air. It’s been an up-and-down season for the senior signal caller, but he’s still averaging 226 total yards per game, including 206 passing yards per game. If the defense can force Lewis to have one of his more wild nights, that will keep Georgia State in the game. Lewis has only thrown 3 interceptions this season, but two of them have come in the last three weeks. 

The opportunity for Georgia State’s first win against a ranked opponent is right in front of them, and a win is necessary to keep their title hopes alive. Georgia State and #24 Louisiana kick off at 7:30pm Eastern tonight from Cajun Field, and the game is being broadcast on ESPN for all to see.

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