Georgia State coach Sean Elliott said the strong start, predicated on a new hard-nosed approach that began in January, didn’t shock anyone within the program.
“I don’t think there’s been any surprises,” Elliott said. “It was kind of exactly how we had our offseason. We’ve kept building and building, and we kept improving through the course of the summer. Our camp was a really good (preseason) camp, and our team is in really good spirits. I haven’t seen a lot of surprises because I saw it building through the course of the offseason.”
Now it’s on the verge of going 3-0 for the first time.
The only other chance came in 2019, Elliott’s third season. That’s when GSU beat Tennessee – the program’s golden moment – and Furman before losing badly at Western Michigan.
“We’re motivated every day,” senior defensive end Javon Denis said. “We’re going to try and be 1-0 every week, no matter the opponent. We’ll get motivated for anybody that lines up with us on Saturdays, Thursdays or Fridays. That’s just our message right there.”
Charlotte is a mystery. The 49ers look like a completely different program, with an entirely new staff and a roster loaded with 70 new players. Biff Poggi, who was Jim Harbaugh’s associate head coach at Michigan, came in as head coach. He brought along Ryan Osborn, who had been on John Harbaugh’s staff with the Baltimore Ravens, to be the defensive coordinator. Charlotte imported 48 players via the transfer portal.
“There’s not many of those guys that played against us a year ago,” Elliott said. “We’re going to see firsthand what we’re facing. You can watch them on film, but we didn’t face them in person. Now you really want to know exactly what you’re going to have to defend or attack.”
Charlotte’s defensive goal is to stop the run. The 49ers were able to do that against South Carolina State, but surrendered 243 yards on the ground against Maryland.
Georgia State will try to leverage its ground strength – the Panthers have rushed for 481 yards – and rely on running back Marcus Carroll (292 yards, six touchdowns) and quarterback Darren Grainger, who has rushed for 191 yards and thrown for 337 yards.
“They can throw it,” Poggi said. “They’ve got a good group of receivers, and the quarterback is exceptional. He and the tailback account for like 410 yards per game. It’s going to be a difficult task on defense because he can throw it, and he and the tailback can both run it.”
Georgia State showed its biggest improvement on defense last week, particularly on third down. After Rhode Island converted 13 of 20 times, UConn was successful on 10 of 18 opportunities, although five of those came in the fourth quarter when the Panthers had a 28-point lead. GSU is holding opponents to a Sun Belt-leading 81 yards rushing per game and limited UConn to 50 yards on 31 carries.
“I thought defensively we were really stout for the most part,” Elliott said.
The defense also continues to be opportunistic. The Panthers had an interception and recovered two fumbles against UConn, giving them five takeaways through the first two games. Georgia State has come up with 30 turnovers in the past 14 games.
Charlotte graduated super-senior quarterback Chris Reynolds, who threw for 501 yards and five touchdowns, including the game-winner with 17 seconds left, against the Panthers a year ago. He’s been replaced by two-way threat Jalon Jones, a graduate transfer from Bethune-Cookman, although Oklahoma transfer Micah Bowens waits in the wings.
“Their quarterback is dynamic in the run game,” Elliott said. “He’s got a real strong arm, and he can do a lot of different stuff. They’ve got some real skill.”
There are a handful of players with Georgia connections on the Charlotte roster. Starting linebacker Demetrius Knight transferred from Georgia Tech. Jairus Knight from Clarke Central is a playmaker who starts at wide receiver. Johnathan Bass, who transferred from GSU, is a backup at right guard.
One of the 40-plus players who left Charlotte was Braeden McAlister, a redshirt freshman who transferred to Georgia State and is handling kickoffs. McAlister has put five of his 12 kickoffs in the end zone for touchbacks.