Georgia State football one win from new milestones

Malik Sumter picks up teammate Tucker Gregg after Gregg scores a touchdown against Arkansas State. Georgia State won the game 28-20 on Nov. 20, 2021, and became bowl eligible for the third straight season. (Photo -  Rich Von Bieberstein/Georgia State Athletics)
Caption
Malik Sumter picks up teammate Tucker Gregg after Gregg scores a touchdown against Arkansas State. Georgia State won the game 28-20 on Nov. 20, 2021, and became bowl eligible for the third straight season. (Photo - Rich Von Bieberstein/Georgia State Athletics)

Credit: Rich Von Bieberstein

Credit: Rich Von Bieberstein

“Victory Monday” has become a common occurrence at Georgia State the past two months. Whenever the Panthers win, the coaches reward the players by canceling practice Monday morning. It’s been celebrated on five of the past six weeks.

One more “Victory Monday” would mean another milestone for the program. If Georgia State (6-5, 5-2 Sun Belt) defeats Troy (5-6, 3-4) on Saturday at Center Parc Stadium (2 p.m., TV: ESPN3; Radio: WRAS-FM 88.5), it will set a school record for conference wins and perhaps incentivize a better bowl selection.

“If we go out and play well, we have a chance to finish at 7-5, and we have a chance to set a record for most conference wins,” Georgia State coach Shawn Elliott said. “Those are two big, big milestones. And from where we came from (a 1-4 start), I don’t think any of you guys sitting across there ever thought we’d have the opportunity get finished the way we have and carry that momentum into a bowl game and have, what I would say, would be the best season in Georgia State history.”

Troy has been through a tumultuous week. Coach Chip Lindsey, who went 15-19 in three seasons, was fired Sunday and defensive coordinator Brandon Hall was named interim head coach for the final game. The Trojans have plenty of motivation, too, and could become bowl-eligible with a win.

“He’s going to have those guys inspired and motivated,” Elliott said. “And I’m sure he’s going to have some tricks up his sleeve. There’s going to be a new man in charge when it’s all said and done, regardless of the outcome of this game, so I’m sure it’ll be a ‘roll the dice’ mentality to try to get the win.”

Troy leads the series 5-3, but Georgia State has won the past two meetings. The Panthers prevailed 36-34 at Troy in 2020, but allowed the Trojans to throw for 407 yards.

Georgia State is coming off its best defensive performance of the season. The Panthers set school records by holding Arkansas State to minus-3 yards rushing and recording 15 tackles for loss. GSU has had 26 tackles for loss over the past two games, have a school-record 76, and its 29 sacks are six short of matching last year’s school-record 35.

“When you go back and look at our film, you can say now impressed we were with our defensive play,” Elliott said. “They just played really well and kept us in the game until we could put enough points on the board to get that win.”

Georgia State created three turnovers last week to continue a trend. The Panthers have intercepted seven passes over the past six games, and Antavious Lane grabbed the seventh pick of his career.

The offense may have a tougher time against a Troy defense that ranks No. 3 in the Sun Belt in total defense (333.5 yards per game) – third against the rush and second against the pass. The Trojans lead the conference with 16 interceptions and 36 sacks.

Georgia State’s passing game remains a work in progress. Last week quarterback Darren Grainger threw for 152 yards with Jamari Thrash catching four balls for 103 yards. The running game remained consistent; Jamyest Williams rushed for a career-best 125 yards and Tucker Gregg ran for 98.

Gregg leads the team with 816 rushing yards -- the second-highest single-season total in program history -- and nine touchdowns, and Williams has run for 702 yards -- No. 4 for single season -- and eight touchdowns. Gregg has rushed for 1,423 yards in his career, fourth on the school’s all-time list.

“The biggest thing is they take on the personality of their head coach,” Hall said. “They are physical in everything they do. They want to run the football, they want to punish you, they want to control the line of scrimmage, control the time of possession, and it creates issues.”

Now that the Panthers are bowl-eligible for the third consecutive year – and the fourth time during Elliott’s five-year tenure – their postseason destination is intriguing to the fans. That decision won’t be announced until Dec 5.

The winner of the Sun Belt Championship game between Louisiana-Lafayette and Appalachian State will go to the New Orleans Bowl, with the loser likely penciled in for the Cure Bowl in Orlando. The other three slots belong to the Myrtle Beach Bowl, the LendingTree Bowl in Mobile, Ala., and the Camellia Bowl in Montgomery, Ala.

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