Darren Grainger, improved defense spark Georgia State past UConn

Darren Grainger completes a 65-yard touchdown run against UConn on Sept. 9, 2023. Grainger ran for 142 yards and threw for 144 yards in the win.

Credit: Georgia State Athletics

Credit: Georgia State Athletics

Darren Grainger completes a 65-yard touchdown run against UConn on Sept. 9, 2023. Grainger ran for 142 yards and threw for 144 yards in the win.

The Georgia State defense made huge strides forward and quarterback Darren Grainger again showed his dangerous side in Saturday’s 35-14 win over Connecticut at Center Parc Stadium. The Panthers are 2-0 for the first time since 2019.

“It was really a convincing win in all three phases of the game,” Georgia State coach Shawn Elliott said. “We came out and executed and it was a good effort all the way around.”

After allowing Rhode Island, an FCS school, to score 35 points in the season-opening win, the Panthers gave up just 326 yards in total offense, only 50 on the ground, and didn’t surrender a point until the fourth quarter when the outcome was secure.

Elliott said, “Our defense was all over the field. Just the way they were attacking with the speed out there was just really different. Our defense was on point. It was great to see.”

Georgia State senior defensive lineman Javon Denis set the tone with a sack on UConn’s first possession. The defense went on to force three fumbles, recovering two, and came up with an interception.

“We got in our meeting rooms and went over our mistakes, and we put it to bed and went on to UConn,” Denis said. “This team right here, I feel like we want it more and we’re getting together real good with the offense and special teams – all three phases of the game.”

Jontrey Hunter led the team with eight tackles and forced a fumble. Jeremiah Johnson recovered two fumbles and Josiah Robinson intercepted a pass and returned in 42 yards.

Grainger was sharp from the first possession. When UConn decided early to take the inside running game away from Marcus Carroll, who had a career-high 184-yards in last week’s opener, that forced Grainger to be more involved with ground game and he responded by running 12 times for 142 yards – one shy of his career-best – and one touchdown. He also completed 15 of 26 passes for 144 yards and one touchdown.

“I’m a firm believer in the dual-threat quarterback,” Elliott said. “I think they’re fantastic. Darren has developed into a very nice dual-threat quarterback since he’s been here. He’s grown and matured and educated himself on the game of football and understands the concepts.”

Much as Denis set the early tone on defense, Grainger did the same on offense. On the fourth play of the team’s second possession, Granger ran up the middle for a 65-yard touchdown, the longest of his Georgia State career.

“They were going to be light in the box and when I saw it, I felt pretty good about it,” Grainger said. “It just opened up and I had to use my feet.”

Carroll ended up getting his yards, too, as UConn eventually succumbed to the relentless pounding by the GSU offensive line. Carroll wound up with 24 carries for 107 yards and three touchdowns, giving him six touchdowns for the season. He scored on runs of 2, 3 and 39 yards.

Grainger targeted eight different receivers and six of them caught passes. Robert Lewis had four receptions for 30 yards and one touchdown and Jacari Carter and Ja’Cyais Credle both caught three balls.

“The thing we talk about in our room is just being good at distributing the football,” Grainger said. “Just giving those guys a chance to go make plays.”

The offense made plenty of plays during a 15-play, 92-yard drive on its first turn in the second half. After UConn ran five plays and punted, the Panthers got the ball with 11:37 on the clock and burned 7:30 off the clock. Carroll’s 3-yard run completed the drive.

“It was huge because we had them down 21-0 at that time,” Elliott said. “That is pretty significant right there where you can hold the football like that. I think every team, when you have a lead, you would like to do that and shorten the game a little bit. It was a very efficient drive.”

Grainger said, “It took a little momentum away from them and kind of gave them a little knockout punch.”

Georgia State plays its first road game next week at Charlotte. The Panthers lost to then-winless Charlotte a year ago.