Georgia State finds answers to fix ailing offensive line

Credit: Michael Wade

Credit: Michael Wade

One of the most positive signs coming out of Georgia State’s win over Army was the resurgence of the team’s running attack. The Panthers went from a season-low 78 yards rushing against Coastal Carolina the previous week to a season-high 299 yards at West Point.

Panthers coach Shawn Elliott, an old offensive line coach who still embraces the physical element of smash-mouth football, did a little juggling and bit of soul-searching and came up a recipe to get around a few of the injuries that had beset the unit.

“I don’t think we’ve really solidified anything,” Elliott said. “It’s still a work in progress. We’ll spin the wheel and see what we put out there this week.”

The Panthers (1-4, 0-1 Sun Belt) host rival Georgia Southern (3-2, 0-1) on Saturday at 2 p.m. at Center Parc Stadium. The game can be seen on ESPN3 and heard locally on WRAS-FM 88.5.

Georgia State made a couple of crucial moves on the offensive line last week against Army. Veteran Travis Glover was switched from left guard to right tackle and Luis Cristobal got his first start at left guard. Bryson Broadway returned from injury to start at left tackle. Center Malik Sumter, a four-year starter, and right guard Pat Bartlett, a fifth-year starter, remained the constant.

Cristobal, a 6-foot, 274-pound redshirt junior from Miami, is listed on the roster as a center. But Elliott and the staff saw something they liked and gave him a shot. Other than being flagged for one procedure penalty, Cristobal played well.

“We were looking for a spark and we had a really deep conversation,” Elliott said. “I said we needed a guy who is a fighter. We needed a guy who will lay it on the line and fight. So we had to do some maneuvering and we inserted Cristobal. He had the opportunity go out and make a difference in our football team and he did a great job.

“Anytime you have a fighter’s mentality, you have a chance in life, and he’s got that. He’s developed. He goes out and practices like that. He does it every single day and if you don’t give guys like that a chance, then I don’t know why we’re in this business. He deserved a chance and I think he made a difference.”

The Panthers continue to be without veteran offensive tackles Johnathan Bass and Montavious Cunningham, who are injured.

The largest beneficiaries of the stabilized offensive line are running backs Tucker Gregg, Jamyest Williams, Marcus Carroll and quarterback Darren Grainger. Gregg (124 yards) and Williams (106 yards) both went over the 100-yard mark, the fourth time in program history and the first time since 2019 that the team has produced multiple 100-yard games.

Gregg, a fifth-year senior from Chatsworth, set a career record with his 20th touchdown on a 57-yard touchdown and became the school’s all-time leader with 389 rushing attempts. He has 1,909 yards and trails only Tra Barnett (2,156) on the career list. Gregg has rushed for 349 yards this season, No. 7 in the Sun Belt.

Williams, a fifth-year senior from Grayson, now has 1,386 career rushing yards, passing Dan Ellington to move into sixth on the career list. Williams has 274 rushing yards this season, No. 15 in the conference.

“The offensive line as a whole was great,” Grainger said. “I was standing back there handing the ball off and a bunch of holes opened for those running backs to run through and they gave me great pass protection and gave me time back there. The whole O-line played a great game.”

Cristobal was one of several new faces who made an impact against Army. Inside linebacker Jordan Jones, a redshirt freshman from Smiths Station, Ala., made his first career start and had 12 tackles, one for loss. Defensive lineman Tylon Dunlap, a redshirt freshman from Charlotte, had three tackles, a tackle for loss, and batted down a pass. Tight end Ahmon Green, a redshirt freshman from Columbia, S.C., got his first start and blocked well.

“I was calling out guys in our team meeting and there were different guys who have stepped up,” Elliott said. “I’ve seen these guys practice and you know who’s going to show up. I wasn’t surprised. It was just a matter of time.”

The emergence of Jones could be big, as the Panthers look to fill the hole left by the injury to Blake Carroll. Georgia State lost Carroll, their all-conference linebacker and one of the team’s captains, to a season-ending lower body injury against Charlotte.