Game 11 Preview: South Alabama
With their hopes of winning the Sun Belt East all but gone, Georgia State (6-4, 3-3 in Sun Belt) must move forward with a new goal in mind as they look to right the ship against the South Alabama Jaguars (1-9, 0-6 in Sun Belt). The Panthers are left licking their wounds after a deflating 56-27 loss to Appalachian State, but the Jags come into this game in an even bigger rut – losers of their last eight and winless against FBS competition on the season. Steve Campbell’s crew are playing better of late, however, coming off their best games of the year in their last two outings – close losses to Texas State and Louisiana – and Georgia State needs to find answers after a tough couple of weeks to honor their seniors right on Senior Day.
At least from the outside looking in, the Georgia State quarterback situation is very muddled. After miraculously playing through an ACL injury – but with limited success on the field – against App State, senior Dan Ellington is reportedly going to play some snaps again this Saturday. But based on Coach Elliott’s public comments, freshman Quad Brown will play a more significant role against South Alabama. Whoever plays quarterback for the Panthers on Saturday, one thing is for certain – the other facets of the offense have to step up more than they did last Saturday.
Whether it’s a not-100% Ellington or a healthy-but-inexperienced Brown, the Georgia State signal-caller will need help from his pass-catchers – be it the receivers on the outside, the tight ends over the middle or the running backs out of the backfield. The Panthers struggled to put together a cohesive passing game last time out, with timing routes off-kilter and receivers not getting separation and not coming up with catches in traffic, continuing a worrying trend that has existed since before Ellington’s injury. WR Sam Pinckney is a doubt after missing last week’s game with a foot injury, so junior Jonathan Ifedi or one of the freshmen – Jamari Thrash or Cadarrius Thompson – might have to make a play on the outside to complement the oft-reliable Cornelius McCoy.
Georgia State can’t – and certainly won’t – get away from their offensive DNA of running the ball, but after App State exposed the Panthers’ rushing attack without the threat of the legs of Dan Ellington, the offensive line is going to have to execute knowing South Alabama’s disruptive front will be expecting the handoff to the running backs every time. If Quad Brown is taking significant snaps, he’s going to have to be willing to pull it and run himself on option plays to open up the offense, as it seems unlikely Ellington’s number will be called in the run game the rest of the way.
On defense, the Panthers played much better against Appalachian State than the 56 on the scoreboard suggests but there was an all-too-familiar theme to their struggles: Allowing the big play. In both parts of their offense, App State was able to move it in big chunks and strike quick. Thankfully for Georgia State, South Alabama boast a considerably less explosive offense. The Jaguars currently rank last in the conference with 314 yards per game and 17.2 points per game. If the Georgia State defense can settle into the groove they found early last Saturday – forcing stops and creating their first defensive touchdown of the season – this might be an opportunity for Nate Fuqua’s unit to get things right. After giving up 45 and 49 the last two weeks on defense, the Panther defense has to prove a point and take advantage of facing the statistically-worst offense they will have faced in weeks.
South Alabama has a very dependable running back in senior Tra Minter, 6th in the conference in rushing yards per game, but they have struggled to find any semblance of a passing game all season to support him. As a result of their passing woes, the Jaguars recently benched QB Cephus Johnson in favor of freshman Desmond Trotter. Trotter has not been asked to come in and throw all over the place – in both of his starts, South Alabama has ran it 50 or more times and thrown less than 20. South Alabama will look to do more of the same Saturday – control the clock, keep Georgia State’s offense on the sideline and try and grind out a low-scoring game. But if the Panthers can stuff the run, create negative-yardage plays and force Trotter into obvious passing downs, the opportunities could be there to create turnovers and get off the field.
Based on the Jaguars’ recent uptick in form, this is a game Georgia State can’t afford to take lightly and, more importantly, it’s a game they can’t afford to lose. At 6 wins, the Panthers are expecting a bowl appearance but it’s not set in stone. A seventh victory on Saturday would guarantee a bowl game and give the team a program-high in regular season wins. Kickoff is at 2pm EST at Georgia State Stadium and the game is viewable on ESPN+.