Georgia State sees a rivalry, regardless of Georgia Southern’s viewpoint

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Georgia State and Georgia Southern are a pair of FBS schools located a couple of hundred miles away from each other. They play in the same Sun Belt Conference. They recruit against each other for many of the same players.

But while Georgia Southern pooh-poohs the idea that the annual football game between the two programs is a rivalry, Georgia State has embraced the concept and doesn’t mind admitting the game is one the players circle on the schedule.

Georgia State (3-4, 2-1) and Georgia Southern (2-5, 1-3) meet at 6 p.m. Saturday in Statesboro, where it’s homecoming at Paulson Stadium. The game will be televised on ESPN-Plus and can be heard locally on WRAS-FM 88.5.

“I understand that their fan base probably doesn’t consider it a rivalry for whatever reason, and I’m OK with that,” Georgia State coach Shawn Elliott said. “But I can tell you one thing – we do. We’re fired up to go to Statesboro.

“I love their environment. I love their passionate fan base. I love everything about going down there because they don’t like us, and they’re going to do everything in their power to get that stadium up. It just makes for a really exciting contest.”

Georgia Southern’s Gerald Green, a speedy running back from East Coweta High School, admitted to Savannah’s WJCL-TV that the players did not look at the game as a rivalry.

“The first team that might come to mind is App State; that’s a rivalry game between us,” Green said. “But the whole Georgia Southern-Georgia State … who’s the real Georgia team … that’s something the fans probably came up with. But we’re going to make things right and stop all that rivalry nonsense.”

Georgia State leads the series 4-3 and won 30-24 last season in Atlanta by scoring 17 consecutive points in the fourth quarter.

After a 1-4 start against a difficult schedule, Georgia State has won two consecutive games. The Panthers have gotten back on track on offense now that Darren Grainger has been entrenched as the starting quarterback and the ground attack has begun to flourish.

The Panthers ran for 298 yards last week in a 28-16 win over Texas State and has posted three of the program’s top-nine rushing games over the past five weeks.

Senior Tucker Gregg provided the inside punch against Texas State, going for 115 yards and surpassing the 1,000-yard mark for his career; he now has 1,072 yards rushing, No. 9 in GSU history. Speedy Jamyest Williams ran for a career-best 77 yards and two touchdowns and showed he can run between the tackles. Grainger also ran for 106 yards. Georgia State averages 221.9 yards rushing per game, No. 3 in the Sun Belt, behind its big, experienced offensive line.

“I think it’s just us becoming a little more consistent in what we’re going,” Elliott said. “A lot of things open up because of slip screens that we have on the edges out there to our wide receivers. When the safety starts playing out of the middle it makes for longer runs, so we’re generating more explosive runs. Early on we were generating 5-, 6-, 7-yard runs, but those generated now are more 20 and 30.”

Georgia Southern remains a ground-oriented team. The Eagles rank No. 1 in the conference with 238.5 yards per game. Logan Wright (563 yards, five touchdowns) and Green (531 yards, eight touchdowns) are the top carriers. It will be a challenge for the Panthers, who allowed 296 yards rushing to Southern last season.

“We’ve just got to play very, very well,” Elliott said. “We just have to play physical. We know anytime we play a team that runs the football, that’s a physical football team. And that’s certainly what we’ve got to counteract. We’ve got to be more physical than that offensive unit trying to run the football.”

The Eagles have endured a tumultuous season, with coach Chad Lunsford being fired after a 1-3 start. Former Georgia Southern All-American Kevin Whitley, who is in his third season as cornerbacks coach, was named interim head coach. Georgia Southern has lost two consecutive and needs a win to avoid its second three-game losing streak of the season.

“We’re just ready to show what we can do. Show real Georgia Southern football,” Green said. “That’s what we’re most excited about.”