Georgia State banking on offensive reemergence in season finale

Georgia State running back Marcus Carroll, right, celebrates after his touchdown with wide receiver Tailique Williams, left, during the first half of an NCAA college football game against LSU in Baton Rouge, La., Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023. (AP Photo/Matthew Hinton)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Georgia State running back Marcus Carroll, right, celebrates after his touchdown with wide receiver Tailique Williams, left, during the first half of an NCAA college football game against LSU in Baton Rouge, La., Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023. (AP Photo/Matthew Hinton)

It almost went unnoticed during a 42-point loss to No. 14 LSU on the bayou Saturday night, but the Georgia State offense appears to have emerged from its dormancy.

The Panthers, whose attack had been out of sorts over their three previous games, found their footing in an unlikely place. They were able to move the ball effectively against the Tigers, with only one three-and-out in their eight full possessions. Among those were five drives that went eight-plus plays, including a pair of 11-play drives.

Those are the kind of results the team produced during their 6-1 start and have been missing during their four-game losing streak.

“I thought our offense kind of found its mojo back,” Georgia State coach Shawn Elliott said. “We had actually lost it in the second half against Louisiana (the team’s last win), and we were able to find it again. I thought we executed pretty efficiently, running the ball, throwing the ball. All in all, I was pretty pleased.”

The timing could not be any better. The Panthers (6-5, 3-4 Sun Belt) finish the regular season at Old Dominion (5-6, 4-3) at 2 p.m. Saturday (TV: ESPN-Plus, Radio: WRAS-FM 88.5). Although GSU already is bowl eligible, a win would improve the team’s desirability – as well as enable the Panthers to tie the school record for regular-season wins.

“This is a big week for us,” Elliott said. “The last four weeks haven’t been all that great. We’ve played some good football teams and weren’t able to get the wins, but to have an opportunity to finish with seven wins and have an opportunity to have postseason play, this is a huge, huge game for us.”

The reborn offense starts with quarterback Darren Grainger, who was able to pick the team downfield with short passes against and sustain drives against LSU. He completed 23 of 29 passes for 179 yards and one touchdown and ran for 32 yards. He needs five rushing yards to become the program’s fifth player to reach the 2,000-yard milestone.

In his previous three games, Grainger had not thrown for more than 160 yards after having done so in five of the first six games.

Running back Marcus Carroll rushed for 87 yards and a 44-yard touchdown against LSU and learned Monday that he was among 10 semifinalists chosen for the Doak Walker Award, given annually to the nation’s top running back. The senior from Hapeville has rushed for 1,293 yards (No. 4 in FBS) and a school-record 15 touchdowns.

Old Dominion has been a difficult program to label this season. The Monarchs have played nine one-score games, more than any other FBS program, and last week beat Georgia Southern on the final play of the game when North Paulding product Ethan Sanchez kicked a 22-yard field goal.

“They’re playing pretty well. It’s the parity in our league, right?” Elliott said. “They’ve got no quit in them. If you watch, it’s the effort of those guys. Look at No. 42 (Jason Henderson) on defense. I mean, he’s a one-man wrecking crew, and they’re just keep in the ball game and keep fighting.”

It was easy to pick out Henderson on the game film. He had 11 tackles against Georgia Southern, giving him a team-best 165, and broke the school’s single-season record for tackles for loss with 19.5. Henderson is a semifinalist for the Bednarik Award presented to the nation’s best defensive player.

Another notable is quarterback Grant Wilson, a transfer from Fordham who has thrown for 1,818 yards and 125 touchdowns.

“They like to spread you out, and when I say spread, it’s a true spread,” Elliott said. “They’re going to push you to the sideline, take advantage of the inside run when you’re light in the box and then throw it over the top.”

Georgia State won last year’s game 31-17 and limited Old Dominion to 26 yards rushing, the third-least in program history. The defense forced two turnovers, had six sacks and allowed only 11 first downs. Old Dominion leads the series 3-1.

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