August 30, 2018 Atlanta - Georgia State head coach Shawn Elliott instructs Georgia State wide receiver Penny Hart (18) in the first half of Georgia State season opening game against the Kennesaw State at Georgia State Stadium on Thursday, August 30, 2018. Georgia State won 24-20 over the Kennesaw State. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Panthers hope to ‘build identity’ before conference games 

After winning its first season opener in four years, Georgia State lost to its Week 2 non-conference opponent N.C. State.  

Georgia State’s first four weeks of play are against non-conference opponents –– Kennesaw State, N.C. State, Memphis, and Western Michigan.

Georgia State travels to Memphis for a game Friday night, one to be broadcast by ESPN beginning at 7 p.m. 

Panthers coach Shawn Elliott hopes to use his team’s first four games, playing against non-conference opponents, to prepare his team for eight consecutive Sun Belt Conference games. 

“I look at these games as opportunity games,” Elliott said. “I mean to come out and really see exactly what you have, to grow, and develop as a football team. That’s what we have to continue to do, so when we do get to that conference schedule, we’re ready to go play to win that East (division) and have an opportunity to play for the Sun Belt Conference championship.” 

In June, the Sun Belt Conference announced the first conference championship game. Georgia State falls in the East Division, along with Georgia Southern, Appalachian State, Coastal Carolina, and Troy. 

The Panthers begin conference play Sept. 29, at home against Louisiana-Monroe, the first of its eight conference games that complete the schedule. Junior wide receiver Penny Hart believes these first four weeks against non-conference opponents will help the Panthers build a better identity. 

“Continue to fight as best as we can and execute the smallest things,” Hart said of his team’s growing identity. “From holding a block on the line on a screen so that that D-end or somebody can’t come cross and tackle a wide receiver all the way across the field or making a big catch like I should have last week; just being able to execute on all phases and get better.” 

Heading into Week 3, the Panthers must prepare for another strong non-conference opponent and experienced quarterback in Memphis’ Brady White. In his first two games, White completed 37 passes for 503 yards and five touchdowns. According to Elliott, preparation for Memphis’ offense begins with stronger coverage in the Panthers’ secondary. 

“We have to get some pressure on that quarterback and make him make some bad decisions,” Elliott said. “It is very easy for a quarterback to sit back there and have some time and make easy throws.”

Friday’s matchup will be the Panthers’ second weeknight game. Georgia State has four weeknight games in 2018 –– the final two coming in October. However, weeknight games do not change the Panthers’ preparation. 

“If you make a big deal out of it, it becomes a big deal,” Elliott said. “We’re not rushing anything; our focus and our practices are the same. That’s really important.” 

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