Georgia State’s defense improves heading into South Alabama game

Georgia State defensive lineman Akeem Smith (right) makes a stop against Louisiana-Monroe. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Georgia State defensive lineman Akeem Smith (right) makes a stop against Louisiana-Monroe. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

If Georgia State can take any solace from last week’s disappointing loss, it’s the idea that the team’s defense produced its best all-around game of the year.

The Panthers allowed a season-low 17 points on the road to perennial Sun Belt Conference power Appalachian State and coach Shawn Elliott likes the way his team is trending heading into Saturdays final road game at South Alabama.

“There’s no question we played our best (defensive) game of the year,” Elliott said. “Reaction time, getting in the right gap … just a great effort. It was a good game plan, but more effort than anything else.”

Georgia State gave up only 310 total yards to Appalachian State, the second-fewest yards allowed by the team this season. The Panthers gave up a season-low 179 passing yards against the Mountaineers, as well as only 131 rushing yards – half their average total.

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There were several milestones set by Panthers during the game. Safety Antavious Lane set a freshman record with his third interception. Outside linebacker Jordan Strachan set a single-season mark with his sixth sack. Defensive end Hardrick Willis picked up a sack and now has 10 for his career, a half-sack shy of the school record.

“I haven’t seen a defense so committed to doing what they did on Saturday,” Elliott said. “It was a whole other level and a whole other look in their eyes, to stand toe-to-toe with them and limit them to what they wanted to do. I see it as a building block and will carry over this weekend to South Alabama.”

Kickoff for Georgia State (3-4, 2-4 Sun Belt) and South Alabama (3-5, 2-3) is 4 p.m. The game can be seen on ESPNU and heard locally on WRAS-FM (88.5).

The two clubs have a history of playing close games. They’ve split eight meetings and South Alabama has won all three times in Mobile. Five of the eight games have been decided by a touchdown or less, although Georgia State won 28-15 a year ago. This will be the first game contested on South Alabama’s new on-campus Hancock Whitney Stadium.

A win would give Georgia State an opportunity to record its second straight winning season. The Panthers finish at home against rival Georgia Southern.

South Alabama doesn’t bring the same high level off firepower as Appalachian State. The Jaguars average only 20.9 points per game, second to last in the league. They have scored only 33 points over the last three games, all road losses.

South Alabama was hampered last week by the loss of both tackles, who did not play because of COVID protocol. Tyler Jernigan and Connor Estes, a pair of 300-pounders, are not expected to play again this week. Their absence helped limit team-leading tailback Carlos Davis to only 18 yards against Louisiana; he’s rushed for 608 yards this season.

“Georgia State played a heck of a game defensively (against Appalachian State),” South Alabama coach Steve Campbell said. “I was not surprised. They’ve played well all year, other than one hiccup against Coastal Carolina. Our focus is to get back to playing good football.”

While the Georgia State defense had a great week, the offense struggled to move the ball, particularly in the red zone. The Panthers have scored 27 of 28 times in the red zone and have scored touchdowns on 20 of those occasions. But against Appalachian State the Panthers scored one red-zone touchdown and settled for field goals after advancing to the 6 and 15-yard lines.

Redshirt freshman quarterback Quad Brown completed only 11 of 33 passes for 152 yards and took three sacks. He ran for just 12 yards. Destin Coates rushed for 45 yards and lost a costly fumble that led to an Appalachian State touchdown.

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