Georgia State looks to build on three-game win streak

Georgia State is 3-0 since installing Darren Grainger as the full-time quarterback. Grainger (3) is all smiles after leading the Panthers to victory over Charlotte 20-9 on Sept. 18, 2021 at Center Parc Stadium in Atlanta. (Daniel Varnado/For the AJC)
Georgia State is 3-0 since installing Darren Grainger as the full-time quarterback. Grainger (3) is all smiles after leading the Panthers to victory over Charlotte 20-9 on Sept. 18, 2021 at Center Parc Stadium in Atlanta. (Daniel Varnado/For the AJC)

Credit: Daniel Varnado

Credit: Daniel Varnado

Georgia State finally dug its way out of a 1-4 start. But where does it go now?

Last week’s win over rival Georgia Southern extended its win streak to three games and evened the Panthers’ record. With four games left, the hopes for a third consecutive bowl appearance have been revived.

“We faced a tough non-conference schedule, and at times we played pretty good in those games and at times we didn’t,” Georgia State coach Shawn Elliott said. “We found ourselves in a deep hole, but we’ve climbed out of it. We can almost peek over the edge. You know how you get to the top and kind of look around and say, ‘Hey, this is what the whole world looks like.’ And I think they can see that right now.”

What they see is a tough remaining schedule, which starts this week with nationally televised game at Louisiana-Lafayette at 7:30 p.m. Thursday. The game will be broadcast on ESPN and can be heard locally on WRAS-FM 88.5.

Georgia State is looking for its first win over a ranked team. The Panthers came close earlier this year before losing to then-No. 23 Auburn in the final minute. Georgia State has never beaten Louisiana-Lafayette -- the Ragin’ Cajuns lead the series 5-0 – and blew a lead last year to lose 34-31 in overtime for a disappointing loss in 2020.

Georgia State’s three-game win streak has come since the quarterback issue was settled and the decision made to embrace the running game.

Darren Grainger is 3-0 since winning the full-time starting job. He has thrown for 571 yards and five touchdowns and rushed for 206 yards and one touchdown during in those three games. His season totals are 924 yards and 11 touchdowns and 388 yards and one touchdown.

Grainger’s success hastened the departure of 2020 starter Quad Brown, who announced this week his decision to enter the transfer portal. Redshirt freshman Mikele Colasurdo will be promoted to the No. 2 spot. Brown threw for 2,278 yards and was MVP of the LendingTree Bowl in 2020, but got off to a rough start (four interceptions and seven sacks) and eventually lost the job to Grainger.

“(Brown) is a really good quarterback and did a lot of good things for us here,” Elliott said. “Only 11 guys go out there and play and, in this day and age for whatever reason, if you’re not playing, I guess you’re looking. The powers-that-be created that and this whole you-can-go-wherever-you-want-to-go thing. We wish him the best of luck. He’s a very bright young man with great talent.”

Brown is the fourth player to bail this season. Running back Destin Coates, who had been in the doghouse because of ball-security issues, also opted to seek greener pastures. The senior was preseason first-team All-Sun Belt and leaves as the program’s No. 2 all-time rusher with 1,638 yards and 16 touchdowns. Safeties Chris Bacon and Tyler Gore jumped ship earlier.

The running game has been steady since Tucker Gregg became a focal point and has gotten even better with the addition of speedy Jamyest Williams into the rotation. The power running of Gregg (552 yards, four TDs) and the elusiveness of Williams (413 yards, five TDs), along with the threat of Grainger has put the GSU offense back on track.

Louisiana-Lafayette likely will emphasize its running game, too. Coach Billy Napier’s team features an NFL-sized offensive line, and quarterback Levi Lewis has thrown for 1,655 yards and 11 touchdowns, three in last week’s 45-0 homecoming win over Texas State. Chris Smith (621 yards) and Montrel Johnson (525 yards) rank among the Sun Belt’s top 10 in rushing.

“They’re going to try to push us around up front, and we’re going to have to stop the run to be successful,” Elliott said.

The Thursday night contest forces both teams to compress their preparation time. Georgia State’s situation is a bit different since it also must travel.

“We talk to them and ask, ‘What are you willing to give up, out of practices, outside of our typical meetings,’” Elliott said. “Are you willing to come over and watch an extra 15-20 minutes, may an hour of film? We’ve seen just about everything you can see – offensively, defensively, special teams. It’s about aligning and getting ready to play and knowing what to do at this point. I don’t think it’s going to be a huge issue.”

Louisiana-Lafayette coach Billy Napier has gone to the degree to ask advice from friends in the NFL who often are required to work on short rest.

“A couple of years ago we worked on it and tweaked it a little bit relative to being in the second half of the season,” Napier said. “But overall it’s just the same amount of work in a lot less time, finding the right balance to get them ready.”

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