Georgia State corners helped shape defense

Two lineup changes – one forced the other – may have been what helped Georgia State’s defense become the most improved in the Sun Belt last season.

When Chandon Sullivan and Jerome Smith were consistently paired together as the starting cornerbacks, and Bruce Dukes moved to nickelback, Georgia State’s pass defense became tighter by an average of more than 100 yards per game.

Additionally, knowing the underclassmen tandem could handle man-to-man coverage on the outside, defensive coordinator Jesse Minter was able to use more men to stop the run. As a result, the Panthers’ run defense became tighter by an average of more than 30 yards per game.

“We took a step as a defense when we had those two guys on the outside that you trusted in coverage,” Minter said. “It didn’t matter who they got matched up in, you felt good about it. They just continued to improve every day.”

The two have slightly different styles. Sullivan seems more cerebral and technique-minded. Smith is more physical, direct and emotional, as evidenced by the rash of personal foul penalties called against him last year.

They were paired as starting cornerbacks together for the first time in the game against Liberty, before Bruce Dukes moved back and Smith out against Appalachian State. Sullivan and Smith were paired together against for the next game at Ball State and remained the starters for the rest of the season. Perhaps not coincidentally, Georgia State won five of those seven games.

Before the game at Ball State, opponents averaged 294.6 passing yards per game, with nine touchdowns and four interceptions. From Ball State through the Cure Bowl against San Jose State, opponents averaged 180.8 passing yards per game, with 10 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.

Against the run, the Panthers allowed an average of 200.6 yards per game with nine touchdowns against Charlotte, New Mexico State, Oregon, Liberty and Appalachian State. That average decreased to 168.9 in the final eight games with nine touchdowns allowed.

“Our chemistry overall became better,” Sullivan, a junior, said. “We just kind of clicked. Started watching more film, started partaking harder. It showed on the field. We hope to carry that over this season.”

“We became closer as a team,” Smith, a redshirt sophomore, said. “Everybody bought in as a group. After the App State game we started playing harder and going harder.”

Minter said both players had solid summers are having great camps. They have gained a better understanding of different coverages and where they may have help should it be needed.

“The consistency those guys have shown in the first 10 practices, they are at a very high level right now,” Minter said.

Miles said that the duo have the right mindset to handle the stresses of being locked up one-on-one on the edge, where a simple mistake in technique can result in a game-changing touchdown.

Both players showed that confidence following Monday’s practice.

Smith said he thinks he and Sullivan are the best cornerback duo in the Sun Belt Conference. Sullivan said he was slightly unhappy at not being named to the preseason all-conference team after earning honorable mention all-conference honors last season following his 50 tackles, two sacks and two interceptions.

“It’s a little frustrating when other people don’t see you where you believe you are,” he said. “You just use it as motivation and positively use it every day and try to get better.”

Smith, as is his playing style, was more blunt.

“Just use it as motivation and they won’t have nothing to say after this year,” Smith said.