Georgia State recalibrates for home finale against Appalachian State

There was some serious soul-searching at Georgia State after Saturday’s disheartening performance against No. 23 James Madison. In lieu of practice Monday, the players participated in team meetings that included answering and asking some pointed questions, all designed to help the team regain its mojo after back-to-back losses.

“We’ve got to dig deep and find ourselves and pull ourselves out of the doggone doldrums of hell, so to speak,” Georgia State coach Shawn Elliott said. “But we’ve got a really good attitude, and our football team is ready to go. We had a great meeting, got a lot of things aired out and a lot of tough conversations, a lot of things that needed to be said, and we’ve come out refreshed, and we’re ready to go.”

The call to action is needed this week as the Panthers (6-3, 3-3 Sun Belt) play their final home game of the season at 2 p.m. Saturday at Center Parc Stadium against Appalachian State (5-4, 3-2). The game will be shown on ESPN-Plus and can be heard locally on WRAS-FM 88.5 or the GSU App.

Georgia State already is bowl eligible, but with a trip to No. 18 LSU looming next week and a season-ending trip to Old Dominion awaiting, this is a crucial time for a realignment. Not that it will be easy. App State is a team that Georgia State has not beaten in nine tries, a point that remains a burr for Elliott, who played and coached there.

“I was an App State guy. I graduated from there, and we do have some ties,” Elliott said. “They understand that I played there, and they understand I’m going to do what I can to put a good product on the field to try to beat them. It’s out in the open, but I’m not going to make this game more than it is.

The Panthers came close to beating the Mountaineers in Boone, North Carolina, in 2020, losing 17-13 on a long fourth-quarter touchdown drive. The contests the past two years have been ugly – a 45-16 loss in 2021, although GSU followed that rout by winning seven of its last eight, and 42-7 a year ago on one of those screwy Wednesday night games the conference doesn’t mind scheduling.

“It’s a big-time opportunity,” Elliott said. “We’ve been kicked around and pushed around by them for a long, long time. So that’s motivation and inspiration enough to go out there and play hard and see exactly what we’ve got.”

The Panthers have had issues on defense. They allowed 86 points over the past two weeks. Yet Elliott said that many of the defense’s problems have come because of the offense’s inability to move the ball and score points. In last week’s 42-14 loss to James Madison, the Panthers ran only 48 offensive plays and kept the football for only 17:34.

“Right now we are not playing very well offensively,” Elliott said. “Last week was a bad plan that was executed poorly. We’re going to have a good plan, we’re going to have a good mindset, and our guys are going to go out and execute this week.”

Against James Madison, thousand-yard rusher Marcus Carroll was limited to 33 yards on 13 carries – both season lows. Quarterback Darren Grainger ran 13 times for 103 yards, but 88 of those came on two long touchdown runs, and completed 10 of 19 passes for 82 yards. It was Grainger’s worst passing day since going 9-for-23 for 73 yards last season against App State.

App State is coming off its best defensive effort of the season, a 31-9 win over Marshall. The Mountaineers intercepted three passes, one a pick-six, and had three sacks in holding the Thundering Herd to less than 300 yards of total offense.

“It was by far the best performance we’ve had,” App State coach Shawn Clark said. “We simplified the playbook and got our best players on the field.”

The Mountaineers always have had a strong local presence and this year have 16 Georgians on the roster. That includes fifth-year safety Nick Ross of Marietta, who ranks second on the team with 68 tackles, and right guard Bucky Williams of Ringgold, who has started 49 games and is a mainstay on the offensive line that’s dubbed “The Bulls.”

This will be the final home game for a core group of GSU seniors who will be honored at Senior Day. They include Grainger, left tackle Travis Glover, linebacker Jontrey Hunter, linebacker Jordan Veneziale, linebacker Shamar McCollum, safety Tygee Leach, right guard Tyden Ferris, left guard Jonathan Brown, long snapper Seth Glausier and receiver Rico Arnold.