Upon Further Review: Louisiana-Monroe

QB Darren Grainger prepares to pass earlier this season against Appalachian State. Grainger was 18/25 for 230 yards and 5 total TDs against ULM, including one rushing score.
Photo: Jordan Crawford for THERSdayNight.com

One week after a home drubbing at the hands of Appalachian State to begin Sun Belt play, Georgia State went to Monroe, Louisiana searching for some answers. The Panthers had just been handed their fourth defeat of the year and were still looking for the keys to unlock an offense that had been very inconsistent to begin the year. Throughout the last week, head coach Shawn Elliott would not disclose the Panthers; starting quarterback but did issue one proclamation – whoever was named the starter versus Louisiana-Monroe would be the starter going forward. So when junior Darren Grainger took the field against the Warhawks, the decision was made and there was to be no quarterback controversy. With Grainger at the controls, Georgia State smacked the Warhawks and led the Panthers to a season-high offensive performance. So how were the Panthers able to answer those questions, and are there any more to ask going forward? This is Upon Further Review.

Death by 1,000 Rushes

The Panthers offense dominated the Warhawks to the tune of 572 total yards, including 326 rushing yards on 58 attempts and four touchdowns. The 326 yards were the Panthers’ most rushing yards since the 2019 season. Georgia State spread the wealth around evenly across 7 different rushers, none for more than 15 attempts. Even more impressive was that the Panthers had three rushers eclipse 60 yards without anyone reaching 100 yards, and the longest rush was a 26-yard scamper by Quad Brown for a touchdown. It was a well-balanced day on the ground that should once again instill confidence in the team’s ability to move the ball. It goes without saying that in order to reach this level of production, the Panthers’ offensive line deserves a ton of credit. It didn’t matter who was toting the rock, they were ready to open up the holes and let the guys behind them work.

Walker, Georgia Grainger

After a shaky performance last week against App State, Darren Grainger rebounded in a big way this week and led the Georgia State offense to far and away their most complete outing. What stood out about Grainger’s performance against the Warhawks wasn’t just the ability to run the ball he’s shown in his previous start – he posted a season-high passing tally for Georgia State as well. His 230 passing yards marked the first time this season a Georgia State QB went over 200 yards passing in a game. Grainger mixed up his passes well, airing it out deep to great success but also finding touch on the shorter throws that had escaped him in prior weeks. The short passing game was excellent for the Panthers, and it was not just due to a weaker secondary. Grainger fit passes in tight windows and left them so only those in white could catch them. His efficiency was also on display, as he went 18-for-25 for 230 yards with four touchdowns and zero interceptions on the night. Other than one errant throw that would have resulted in a ULM interception if not for a targeting penalty committed by the Warhawks that negated the play, it was a near perfect game for the QB in the passing game. 

Secondary Problems

Defensively, the Panthers put on one of their best performances of the season, but there still remains some things to clean up going forward. The front seven played well, winning their battles and disrupting the Warhawks’ rhythm and timing throughout the evening. While the unit had success in prior games, the box score was a little light in impact numbers for the group. But after 3 sacks and 7 tackles for loss in this one, the numbers are trending in the right direction.

The secondary had a bit of a harder time being as impactful due to some personnel changes and game flow. While one shouldn’t worry about the GSU secondary necessarily, there were times where their coverage of the Warhawks left a little to be desired. On a long 3rd-and-33 on the Panthers’ side of the field, quarterback Chandler Rogers was able to find an open Boogie Knight deep downfield for a gain of 27, which nearly converted a first down. The Warhawks would miss the ensuing field goal attempt, but it was just one of many examples where the Georgia State secondary left a receiver wide open for a big gain. Antavious Lane did have an interception in the game, so the unit did make plays, but finding consistency in coverage will be key for them going forward. Jalen Tate played many of the snaps left available by Chris Bacon’s departure and Chris Moore’s first-half suspension. The redshirt freshman had an up-and-down game in his first start but was in position to make plays – he forced the fumble that Javon Denis recovered which set up Georgia State’s final touchdown of the first half. It remains to be seen how much playing time Tate will receive going forward with Moore back in the starting lineup after serving his suspension. But the Panthers rotate defensive backs often, so keep an eye out for him in the future.

Halfway Home

The 2021 season is halfway through for Georgia State as they head into the bye week. The roughest part of their schedule is through, and many of the Panthers’ goals still remain achievable as they enter the thick of conference play. With the QB battle over, building on this performance on offense and continuing to improve the defense will be the name of the game going forward. After the bye week, the Panthers host Texas State and the schedule tightens back up with a three-week road slate of Georgia Southern, Louisiana and Coastal Carolina. Bowl eligibility will either be won or lost by then, so picking up as many wins as they can would be huge. There is still plenty to play for and the season is solely in the hands of the Panthers. 

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