Georgia State prepares for historic visit from North Carolina

Credit: Daniel Wilson/Georgia State Athletics

Credit: Daniel Wilson/Georgia State Athletics

This is a historic week for the Georgia State football program.

For the first time since the program’s inception in 2010, the Panthers will host a team from a Power Five conference when North Carolina visits Center Parc Stadium on Saturday.

Kickoff is at noon. The game will be televised on ESPNU and can be heard locally on WRAS 88.5 FM.

Georgia State has plenty of experience competing against Power Five teams – it was beaten by South Carolina in Columbia on Saturday – but this will be its first time to play host. A large crowd is expected for the game, which offers the Panthers another opportunity to showcase their emerging program.

“They’re going to roll in there at noon, and who knows what might happen,” Georgia State coach Shawn Elliott said. “But it’s going to be different. It will be a different feel when they walk into our stadium. It’s not going to be like … somebody else … it’s the Tar Heels.”

Senior running back Jamyest Williams said, “We’ve got another chance to redeem ourselves against another big Power Five opponent. We’ve got to go practice harder and keep performing and being consistent.”

Georgia State is playing North Carolina for the second consecutive season. The Panthers were within 24-10 with six minutes left in the third quarter last year when things went south, leading to North Carolina’s 59-17 win.

Georgia State played well Saturday in the season-opening road loss to South Carolina. Other than three breakdowns on special teams – two blocked punts for touchdowns and a fake field-goal attempt that set up another touchdown – the Panthers held their own. Georgia State outgained South Carolina 311-306 in total yards and held the Gamecocks to 79 yards rushing. It was the fourth consecutive game in which GSU allowed fewer than 100 yards on the ground.

“It’s going to be a chance for us to grow and rebound and make some adjustments in that area,” Elliott said. “We’re making strides since that happened, and we’re going to continue to do that all week in our preparation for North Carolina.”

The Tar Heels will bring a different type of offense than South Carolina fielded. They are led by dangerous quarterback Drake Maye, who threw for 352 yards and four touchdowns and ran for 76 yards and one touchdown in the 63-61 win over Appalachian State. Maye has thrown nine touchdown passes without an interception over the first two games.

It will be interesting to see how the Georgia State defense fares against Maye. Although South Carolina quarterback Spencer Rattler doesn’t have the same mobility as Maye, Georgia State applied relentless pressure all game and came up with three sacks, seven tackles for loss, six quarterback hurries and forced two fumbles. Rattler threw for 227 yards and one touchdown.

“I was pleased with the pass rush. I wasn’t pleased with the contain,” Elliott said. “(Rattler) hurt us on some out-of-the-pocket throws.”

Senior cornerback Quavian White led the defense with two interceptions, the eighth and ninth of his career, five tackles, one sack, two tackles for loss and one breakup. White said the Panthers know what it takes to play with North Carolina.

“Short-term memory loss. Bad things are going to happen, but you have to come back and put your work in,” White said.

Georgia State ran the ball effectively against South Carolina, netting 200 yards, but quarterback Darren Grainger completed only 7 of 29 passes for 111 yards and missed 11 consecutive throws at one point.

“I didn’t think the passing was very good,” Elliott said. “I thought we missed some open throws, some open receivers. We’ve got to go and work on that because we’ve got to become a better passing football team. We’ve got to regroup. Darren is a competitor, so he’s not going to worry about me saying he’s got to get better in the throwing game. We’ve all got to improve our talents.”

There are 13 Georgians on the North Carolina roster, including Josh Downs from North Gwinnett High School, who set the school record with 1,355 yards last season. Downs missed Saturday’s game with a lower body injury and is listed as a game-time decision, as is Caleb Hood, the team’s top running back.

Georgia State will play an ACC team for the fourth time. The Panthers are 1-14 against Power Five teams, the win coming against Tennessee in 2019.

“These are opportunities for us,” Elliott said. “We say if you don’t play them, you can’t beat them. So, we’re going to go out there, and we’re going to play and see if we can win.”

Credit: Daniel Wilson/Georgia State Athletics

Credit: Daniel Wilson/Georgia State Athletics