Georgia State prepares for Arkansas State one win from bowl eligibility

Georgia State wide receiver Sam Pinckney (15) is tackled by Coastal Carolina cornerback Jacob Proche (23) during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 13, 2021, in Conway, S.C. (AP Photo/Artie Walker, Jr.)
Georgia State wide receiver Sam Pinckney (15) is tackled by Coastal Carolina cornerback Jacob Proche (23) during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 13, 2021, in Conway, S.C. (AP Photo/Artie Walker, Jr.)

Credit: Artie Walker Jr.

Credit: Artie Walker Jr.

After Saturday’s euphoric and historic win over Associated Press-ranked Coastal Carolina, Georgia State coach Shawn Elliott isn’t worried about selling his team on the need to get prepared to play an opponent with only two wins in a potential trap game. That’s because the Panthers still have a great deal to play for over the final two games.

“I don’t sell them anything,” Elliott said. “We’ve got an opportunity to finish very strong. This is an opportunity to become bowl-eligible, to have a chance for postseason play, and to get another conference win. We’ve got a lot at stake. I think we can finish the right way.”

The Panthers (5-5, 4-2 Sun Belt) will host Arkansas State (2-8, 1-5) at 2 p.m. Saturday at Center Parc Stadium. The game will be televised on ESPN3 and may be heard locally on WRAS-FM 88.5.

Although Arkansas State’s record isn’t pretty – the Red Wolves picked up their first win against an FBS team last week with a 27-24 win over Louisiana-Monroe – it has a long history of success against Georgia State, and it features a throw-throw-throw offense that can troubling.

Arkansas State leads the all-time series 6-1 and won last year’s game 59-52 in Jonesboro, Ark., as the teams combined for 1,192 yards. When Georgia State won 52-38 in 2019 in Atlanta, the Panthers set school records with 722 yards of total offense, 99 plays and 39 first downs.

“They bring a throwing attack that we haven’t seen a lot of this year,” Elliott said. “We remember our game from a year ago. … That was a stinger. We’ve got to prepare well and keep our heads straight and focused.”

Arkansas State, in its first season under former Tennessee coach Butch Jones, leads the Sun Belt with 320.7 yards passing per game – 56 yards more than No. 2 Coastal Carolina. Quarterback Layne Hatcher has thrown for 208 yards per game and 16 touchdowns. He threw for 332 yards and four touchdowns against the Panthers last year.

“They throw the football 70 percent of the time, and they’re going throw it around the yard, so that’s a challenge in itself,” Elliott said. “But (Hatcher) was the same guy coming in here, and I’m sure he remembers throwing for all those yards.”

Georgia State will attempt to apply pressure to make Hatcher uncomfortable, but there’s a risk-reward associated with excessive blitzes.

“Sometimes that blitzing can catch you off-guard because they’re so quick in decision-making,” Elliott said. “During the week we’re going to get a better idea about the opportunity to put some pressure on him or whether we need to sit back.”

But Georgia State’s running game could feast against the Arkansas State defense that ranks dead last in the conference in rushing defense, allowing 263.1 yards per game – 79 yards more than the next worst team. The Panthers are the Sun Belt’s No. 2 rushing team, with 211.4 yards per game.

“We go into every week trying to find a way to best attack in running the football the way we do,” Elliott said. “We don’t pay a whole lot of attention to the stats and all that stuff and that’s a good thing because you don’t want to change your game plan. You’ve got to do what you do well. We can’t have the flavor of the week.”

Georgia State has two runners among the top 10 in the Sun Belt. Tucker Gregg has rushed for 718 yards and eight touchdowns and Jamyest Williams has run for 560 yards and six touchdowns.

And the Panthers successfully integrated more of a passing game into the equation last week against Coastal Carolina. Darren Grainger did a nice job getting the ball farther downfield and threw for 198 yards and two touchdowns, including the go-ahead score with five minutes left, and was named the Sun Belt’s Offensive Player of the Week.

Wideout Sam Pinckney had a season-high six catches for 63 yards, including a 23-yard reception, and tight end Roger Carter had three more catches for 70 yards, including a downfield 39-yarder that set up a touchdown.

Bowl talk: If Georgia State defeats Arkansas State, it will become bowl-eligible for the third consecutive year. Likely destinations include the New Orleans Bowl on Dec. 18, the Myrtle Beach Bowl on Dec. 20, the Camelia Bowl in Montgomery, Ala., on Christmas Day, or even a return to the LendingTree Bowl in Mobile on Dec. 18.

“I can’t even start talking about that,” Elliott said. “We’ve had a pretty good couple weeks, but all we can talk about right now is keeping our head down, looking at our next opponent and trying to play as good as we can, the best, the hardest, the longest for 60 minutes against Arkansas State.”

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