Georgia State run defense faces challenge from Appalachian State

Georgia State head coach Shawn Elliott reacts after a play.
Georgia State head coach Shawn Elliott reacts after a play.

Credit: Hyosub Shin/hshin@ajc.com

Credit: Hyosub Shin/hshin@ajc.com

The Georgia State defense, which has played well against the run for most of the season, will face its toughest challenge on Saturday when the Panthers travel to play reigning Sun Belt champion Appalachian State.

Georgia State (3-3, 2-3 Sun Belt) is No. 2 in the conference against the run (120.5 yards per game) and has limited opponents to 58 or fewer yards in three games. Appalachian State (5-1, 3-0) leads the conference and ranks fourth in the nation in rushing with 283.2 yards per game.

Kickoff is 2:30 p.m. in Boone, N.C. It can be seen on ESPN+ and heard locally on WRAS-FM 88.5. Appalachian State has won all six meetings, including 56-27 at Center Parc Stadium in 2019.

“We’re facing a whole different animal,” Panthers coach Shawn Elliott aid. “Not only do they just run the football, they line up and run it straight at you. There’s not a lot of option, not a lot of scheme. We’ve got our work cut out for us.”

The Mountaineers are the only FBS team to have five different players rush for 100 yards in a game. Their top runner is Douglasville native Daetrich Harrington (595 yards, seven TDs), but veteran quarterback Zac Thomas isn’t afraid to run and is dangerous with a bootleg or a play-action pass. Thomas ranks second in the nation for active quarterback wins, behind only Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence. He needs 71 yards to become the school’s fifth player to throw for 6,000 career yards.

Elliott, a former offensive line coach, also appreciates App State’s experienced front, which has combined for 144 career starts. Rimington Trophy nominee Noah Hannon has started 44 games and leads the group.

“I appreciate a team that can hand the football off and get the yardage – and you know it’s coming,” Elliott said. “We’ve got to stay on our feet and rally to the ball.”

Co-captain Dontae Wilson said Georgia State must build on the improvements it made last week against Louisiana Monroe.

“We’ve got a tough opponent,” Wilson said. “We’ve got to correct the small mistakes we made and hopefully get prepared to be almost perfect when we go to Boone.”

The Panthers need an error-free game from quarterback Quad Brown, who did not have a turnover in last week’s win over Louisiana-Monroe. Brown threw for 241 yards and three touchdowns and ran for 30 yards and one touchdown and was chosen as the Sun Belt’s offensive player of the week.

Georgia State will also lean heavily on its own experienced offensive line, which has combined for 116 starts. All-conference guard Shamarious Gilmore will start his 44th game on Saturday. And the Panthers will balance their attack with running back Destin Coates, who leads the conference with 536 yards and has four 100-yard games, and hard-running Tucker Gregg.

The Panthers got a shot in the arm last week with the return of wide receiver Cornelius McCoy, who missed three games with a knee injury. McCoy had seven catches for 118 yards and two touchdowns and hauled in a 52-yard reception to set up the first touchdown.

“We’ve got to match their intensity,” Elliott said. “When you look at Appalachian State and see the effort and enthusiasm they play with, we’ve got to match that. To beat those guys we have to excel over them.”

The game is personal for Elliott, who played at Appalachian State and was part of the team that went 9-4 in 1994 and 12-1 in 1995. Elliott was a defensive lineman and current App State coach Shawn Clark played on the offensive line. Elliott worked as an assistant theree from 1999-2009 before going to South Carolina as an assistant.

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