Georgia State (1-2) mixed up their offensive lineup with a new starting quarterback, running back and wide receiver and it paid off, paving the way to a complete 20-9 win at home over the Charlotte 49ers (2-1). In a late-breaking development, Darren Grainger made his first start at quarterback at Georgia State after appearing in reserve in the first two games of 2021and he took the reins with aplomb, throwing for two touchdowns and keeping the tenacious GSU running attack on schedule. The Panthers finished with a season-high 282 on the ground, balanced evenly across Grainger, Destin Coates, Jamyest Williams and new starter Tucker Gregg. They were also 3-3 on 4th down conversions, all on runs by Gregg, including one on their final 90-yard TD drive where they were able to milk 7:20 off the clock and confirm the victory.
Down 9-7 in the third quarter after a safety had given Charlotte the lead, Darren Grainger threw his second touchdown of the night, this time to UCF transfer Ja’Cyais Credle from 28 yards, to give the Panthers their first lead of the night. Charlotte followed suit with a drive deep into Georgia State territory, but Chris Bacon jumped on a Calvin Camp fumble inside the 15-yard-line to make it an empty red zone trip and preserve their lead. After the Panthers defense came up with another big stop in their own territory, the offense embarked on that aforementioned 13-play, 90-yard drive and Jamyest Williams gave Georgia State their first double-digit lead of the season on a 13-yard TD run with 1:38 left to clinch a much-needed win.
On the nature of the victory tonight, Georgia State head coach Shawn Elliott stated, “I thought that it happened exactly the way we needed it to happen. It was a tough contest. You really had to go and fight and claw and make everything happen, and it wasn’t easy by any means.” He continued, “We started a new quarterback in Darren Grainger and Tucker [Gregg] at running back and some other changes, but I’m very pleased. I’m very pleased with the way I did it.”
Darren Grainger made the most of the limited pass attempts he had, throwing for 139 yards and two touchdowns on just 12 attempts. Destin Coates led the Panthers with 83 rushing yards but it was a group effort on the ground, with Tucker Gregg adding 76 yards, Jamyest Williams running for 73 yards and his first career touchdown at Georgia State and Grainger also running for 50. WRs Jamari Thrash and Ja’Cyais Credle each made two catches and one receiving touchdown. Credle’s touchdown reception was his first of his career in Atlanta.
Of the decision to start Grainger, Coach Elliott said, “We needed a spark,” going on to say, “After watching film [on Sunday], we felt like we needed to do something.” He still backed the ability of Quad Brown, who Darren had replaced as starter, saying, “Quad’s a good quarterback. He’s going to continue to be a good quarterback and he’s going to continue to fight for this job, just like Darren, because we’ve got to have everyone…in that locker room, everybody’s got a role. And there’s an important role for both those guys.”
And on the defense’s performance, which he called “phenomenal”, he said, “[They] were all over the place, they were relentless. I think we’re really good when we turn those guys loose… We held them in check.”
And as for the 4th down conversion attempts from their own territory, Coach Elliott emphasized his confidence both in the offense to pick up the yardage required and in the defense’s ability to get a stop if the offense were to come up short as reasons he felt he could take that decision.
The stars of the first quarter for both teams ended up being the punters, as each team drove into opposition territory but stalled out and were forced to send out their specialists. Georgia State’s Michael Hayes and Charlotte’s Bailey Rice combined for two punts inside the 5 that should have been corralled in the field of play but instead bounced into the end zone for touchbacks.
The action picked up in a big way early in the second quarter when Destin Coates busted a long run up the middle for 64 yards. The fun, though, stopped for the Panthers when Coates lost the ball as he was brought to the ground and Charlotte recovered and returned the loose ball to their 33. The big play potential of the run was reversed, and Charlotte took advantage of the free opportunity. Converting twice on 4th down on the resulting drive, the 49ers marched 67 yards over 7:19 and dented the scoreboard first when Chris Reynolds found a wide-open Elijah Spencer over the middle for a 36-yard TD pass with 7:41 left in the half. But right when they needed a big play to reset the momentum, the Panthers got two in as many plays.
After the teams traded three-and-outs, Georgia State took over with 4:26 on the clock and struck fast. In an inverse of the Panthers’ go-ahead touchdown in the 3rd quarter, Darren Grainger first launched one down the sideline to connect with Ja’Cyais Credle, who made a diving catch to bring in the 33-yard gain. Grainger then looked to the other sideline on the next play and hit Jamari Thrash perfectly in stride for the 35-yard score and the game was level again in just 23 seconds. And it stayed tied into the break as neither defense relented in the final four minutes of the half.
Disaster struck the Panthers early in the third quarter when costly mistakes piled up. A false start moved the Panthers out of a very manageable 3rd-and-1 at their 19, and on the next play, an errant snap sent Grainger back to his own end zone. His throwaway attempt was ruled to have not made it back to the line of scrimmage and so it was a Charlotte safety to restore their first-half lead. After a great return set up Charlotte in Georgia State territory, though, the Panthers defense did its job and came up with a key 4th-down stop just outside their own 30 to stop Charlotte taking a double-digit lead and kept GSU right in it.
The Panthers head back on the road next Saturday to face Auburn in their final non-conference game of 2021. The game gets underway on the Plains at 4pm Eastern and can be seen on the SEC Network.