Georgia State (2-4, 1-1 in Sun Belt) scored 28 unanswered points to finish the first half, overcoming an early 7-0 deficit to ULM (2-3, 1-2 in Sun Belt) and rolling in the end to an emphatic 55-21 win that snapped their two-game losing streak. The Panthers never led by less than 21 in the second half and pushed their lead as high as 41 before calling off the dogs and playing backups late. It was a record-setting night for the Panthers offense, as the 55 points they scored is a new FBS record for the program and tied the overall record total set by the 2010 team against Savannah State.
Georgia State was led by Darren Grainger at quarterback for the third straight game and the Furman transfer had his best night in a Georgia State uniform, finishing with 314 yards of offense (230 passing, 84 rushing) and 5 total touchdowns. Tucker Gregg and Jamyest Williams added 83 and 67 yards on the ground respectively and each found the end zone once. Ja’Cyais Credle had a banner day at wide receiver, finishing with 130 yards on 7 catches and two touchdowns, including a highlight reel catch in the 4th quarter in triple coverage. TE Aubry Payne had his best game of 2021 as well, bringing in 6 catches for 58 yards and a pair of touchdowns of his own. According to Payne himself postgame, this was his first-ever multi-touchdown game at any level of organized football.
Georgia State head coach Shawn Elliott called the game tonight “a very good win”, adding, “We needed to win like this tonight.” He elaborated on his meaning, saying, “When we’ve had a lead like this at halftime, I don’t think we’ve finished a lot of games with great intention and finishing all four quarters, and I thought, tonight, we won the 1st, the 2nd, the 3rd and the 4th, to that very last handoff and that clock running down.”
Coach Elliott compared tonight’s effort in the second half favorably to the team’s 52-34 win over ULM in 2020 where they let a 35-7 halftime lead get away from them slightly. On what the message at the break was, he said, “Our halftime speech…was about, ‘Hey, we’ve got a test in front of us as a football team. We can go out here and be an average football team and flounder around and not look very sharp and lose our focus and concentration, or we can go out here and keep doing what we’ve done the first two quarters and handling them both offensively, defensively and special teams, and improve as a football team and grow as a football team, mature as a football team,’ and we’ve done that.”
The Panthers got themselves behind the 8-ball once more early in this one. On the first play of ULM’s second drive, what should have been a sack and a safety forced in the end zone by the Georgia State defense was negated by a Jhi’Shawn Taylor face mask penalty. Six plays later – further aided by a targeting penalty committed by safety Keon Carter – the Warhawks struck first with a Chandler Rogers 25-yard touchdown pass to Zach Rasmussen with 9:35 left in the opening quarter. But just when the momentum started to slip ULM’s way, the Panthers offense responded with an uptempo rushing attack on the following drive. Jamyest Williams punched it in from 1 yard out to cap off a 10-play, 75-yard drive that took just 3 minutes and level the scores.
Georgia State then took control in the 2nd quarter. They marched quickly down the field for the second time in three drives, needing just seven plays to go 74 yards and take their first lead of the night via an Aubry Payne 10-yard touchdown catch with 13:28 to go in the 2nd. On their next drive, ULM was able to take it into GSU territory, but facing a 1st-and-10 at the 28-yard-line, a snap got away from Rogers and bounced all the way past midfield. It fell harmlessly out of multiple Panthers’ hands and out of bounds, but it set the Warhawks up with a 2nd-and-39 from their 43. They made up 27 of those yards on a 3rd-down pitch-and-catch between Rogers and Boogie Knight, but Calum Sutherland pushed his 41-yard field goal attempt wide left and the Panthers escaped unscathed.
After their defense came up with the stop, the Georgia State offense answered the call with a long drive and another touchdown. Converting on three 3rd downs and a 4th down – catching ULM with too many men on the field – over 14 plays, the Panthers made it a two-score lead when Grainger connected with Ja’Cyais Credle for a 31-yard score, his second TD pass of the half. And the defense stepped up once again on the second play of ULM’s next drive when Jalen Tate, making his first career start at safety in place of the suspended Chris Moore, jarred the ball loose from Andrew Henry. When Javon Denis fell on the loose ball at the ULM 34, the Panthers were in business, and the offense made the turnover count. A 2-yard Tucker Gregg touchdown run with 1:33 left gave Georgia State a 28-7 halftime lead.
The Panthers picked up where they left off in the second half, scoring on the first drive to take a four-score lead. Things got momentarily hairy after ULM chipped into the lead with a Zach Jackson 18-yard touchdown catch to cut the deficit to 35-14 and Josh Newton appeared to intercept Darren Grainger on the following Georgia State drive and returned the ball inside the GSU 40. But when a booth-initiated review found that Ja’Cquez Williams had led with the crown of the helmet as he hit Grainger in the pocket, a targeting penalty was called, Williams was disqualified and the Panthers kept possession. Eight plays after the would-be INT was wiped out, Grainger called his own number for a 1-yard rushing touchdown, the four-score lead was restored and Georgia State didn’t look back from there, adding two more scores to take their largest lead at 55-14 and cement the win.
Coach Elliott was perhaps happiest of all with the team’s response to dropping to 1-4 in a lopsided 29-point loss last weekend. He said, “I’m very proud of our football team. I’m proud of our players. When you’re sitting here in conference play and we just lost to a very good Appalachian State team, there’s two ways we can go. We were kind of at a crossroads and we had to go forward, and we went forward tonight.”
The Panthers are idle next week and will look to go even further after the bye week in a home game against the Texas State Bobcats on Saturday, October 23. Kickoff time from Center Parc Stadium is TBD.