Georgia State defense plays at record level

East Carolina's running back Chase Hayden (2) is brought down by Georgia State defense line at Center Parc Stadium in Atlanta on Saturday, October 3, 2020. Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

It’s been a while since the Georgia State defense put together the sort of performance it showed in Saturday’s impressive win against East Carolina. You probably need to fast forward through the past two seasons and stop at the 2017 Cure Bowl against Western Kentucky to locate a similar dominating effort.

“It’s one of the best we’ve had,” Georgia State coach Shawn Elliott said. “It reminds me of Western Kentucky, where we were able put so much pressure on the quarterback. It was our front guys that did all the damage. It ranks right up there.”

The 29 points scored by East Carolina doesn’t accurately reflect the defensive dominance. Three of those touchdowns came via a pick-6, a fake punt and a blocked punt. Otherwise, the Pirates were limited to three field goals.

East Carolina was limited to 50 yards rushing, an average of 1.9 yards per carry, and recorded four sacks. That’s the fewest yards allowed by the defense since it held Western Kentucky to minus-2 yards and is tied for the third-lowest total in school history. GSU allowed only 292 total yards on 78 plays, an average of 3.7 yards per play, the second-lowest in school history.

“It was a great group effort,” Elliott said. “We had struggled defensively (last year), not a little but a lot, and we’ve been waiting for that.”

Last season the Panthers twice held the opposition to fewer than 100 yards rushing -- 93 yards by Tennessee in the opener and 96 yards against Troy -- both wins. In three other wins the opponent was held to 115 or fewer yards.

“Our goal (against East Carolina) was to keep them under 100 yards,” nose guard Dontae Wilson said. “That was one of our main keys. It was a great achievement for our defense.”

The secondary has shown a great deal of improvement. Safeties Antavious Lane, Chris Moore and Chris Bacon and cornerbacks Quavian White and Jaylon Jones have been outstanding. Lane, a redshirt freshman, had a pick-6, five tackles and two breakups against East Carolina and was named the Sun Belt’s defensive player of the week. Jones, a junior, led the team with seven tackles and four breakups.

“The safety position is doing better, the cornerbacks are understanding the concepts,” Elliott said. “But it’s not really one area. It’s everyone involved, from our front-line guys to the outside and inside linebackers, a lot better tempo and more maturity. They’ve all played a lot of games, and you can see that on the field.”

Coates closes in on 1,000: Running back Destin Coates rushed 23 times for 113 yards and two touchdowns against East Carolina. That gives him 946 career rushing yards, No. 8 in school history.

A junior from Tallahassee, Fla., Coates leads the Sun Belt Conference with 263 yards rushing and 142 all-purpose yards per game.

But Elliott didn’t appreciate the way Coates came off the field and slammed his helmet into the turf following a change of possession against East Carolina.

“You can’t act like that,” Elliott said.

Etcetera: Cornelius McCoy caught seven passes against East Carolina and moved into fifth place on the career list with 114. … Quavian White intercepted his fifth past, tied for third on the all-time list. … The Panthers are off until Oct. 15 when they play at Arkansas State in a Thursday game that will be televised on ESPN. Arkansas State (1-2) hosts Central Arkansas this week.

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