Georgia Southern a big test for Georgia State defense

Georgia State’s defense will get a chance to show how much it has improved against a Georgia Southern that last year handed the Panthers their most embarrassing defeat.

The Eagles rushed for 613 yards and 10 touchdowns in a 69-31 victory at the Georgia Dome in the first meeting between the two schools. They had 22 runs of at least 10 yards in a display of strength and aggression that the Panthers were mostly powerless to slow down.

But Georgia State’s coaches and players say that was last year. This year’s team is much different. It is stronger. It is more experienced. It is much more confident because it has played much better in the past four weeks than it ever has in coach Trent Miles’ previous seasons.

“I think we have a better defense overall, and we will do better against the option,” safety Tarris Batiste said.

They will need to play better than they ever have because the stakes are tremendous. If Georgia State can win one more game it will become bowl-eligible. The Sun Belt has ties to four bowls and just three teams (the Eagles are one) have won the minimum of six games that warrant automatic consideration.

The key to slowing the Eagles, who are averaging 375.6 rushing yards per game, is for each player to handle their assignment, don’t get caught watching the ball, try to minimize the yards after the first tackler reaches the ball carrier and put the Eagles in third-and-long. All easier said than done.

Appalachian State coach Scott Satterfield said that was partially how the Mountaineers limited the Eagles to a season-low 188 rushing yards in a 31-13 win in Boone earlier this season.

Georgia State has done well in some of those areas. The Panthers haven’t allowed a run longer than 19 yards in five of their past six games, while allowing an average of 145.8 rushing yards per game in those five contests.

“I feel good about where we are at, feel good about what we are doing the last six weeks of the season,” Georgia State defensive coordinator Jesse Minter said. “We will find out.”

Aaron Winchester has been the scout-team quarterback for Georgia State this week, charged with giving the first-and second-team defenses the best looks he can. He ran some basic option plays in high school, but said executing the triple option is much more difficult.

He said the first-team defense has done a good job keeping him and the scout-team running backs bottled up. He said he couldn’t remember a big run through the first two days of practice.

It won’t be surprising if Georgia Southern’s offense looks good at least early because Minter said it’s difficult for the scout team to replicate the speed with which the Eagles execute their plays.

That speed killed Georgia State last year. The Eagles averaged 9.7 yards per carry and converted seven of eight third downs, none of which were longer than nine yards.

Thoughts are mixed as to whether either team will try to use last year’s game as motivation. Minter and defensive linemen Jalen Lawrence said they aren’t worried about last year, preferring instead to focus on what’s next.

Georgia Southern coach Willie Fritz said he hasn’t discussed with his players the ease with which his team ran the ball against the Panthers last year.

Batiste took a different tact. Declining to go into specifics, he said some of the Eagles players did something after the game that he felt was meant to embarrass Georgia State’s players.

“That gets me going and pretty sure will get my team going,” he said.