Georgia State’s Darren Grainger wants repeat performance at Coastal Carolina

Georgia State quarterback Darren Grainger (3) celebrates their win against Rhode Island at Center Parc Stadium, Thursday, August 31, 2023, in Atlanta. Georgia State won 42-35. (Jason Getz /



Georgia State quarterback Darren Grainger (3) celebrates their win against Rhode Island at Center Parc Stadium, Thursday, August 31, 2023, in Atlanta. Georgia State won 42-35. (Jason Getz /

Georgia State quarterback Darren Grainger will return to his happy place Thursday when the Panthers visit Coastal Carolina for the Sun Belt Conference season opener. Grainger, who grew up in Conway, South Carolina, only minutes from the campus, will have one final opportunity to impress the home folks.

It worked two years ago when Grainger led Georgia State to a 42-40 win and threw the go-ahead touchdown pass with five minutes left to secure the program’s first win over a ranked opponent. Grainger threw for 198 yards and two touchdowns that night, and GSU went on to win a school-best eight games.

A similar performance this week will push the team’s record to an unprecedented 4-0 and continue to elevate the stature of Grainger and the Panthers. Kickoff is 7:30 p.m. The game will be nationally televised by ESPN and carried on local radio by WRAS-FM 88.5.

“It’s always good to go home,” Grainger said. “I’ll have a lot of family and friends there. Hopefully we’ll get the same results.”

Grainger is off to a great start. In Saturday’s 41-25 win at Charlotte, the senior completed 27 of 33 passes for 466 yards – five yards short of the school record – with three touchdowns. He also ran 10 times for 23 yards and one touchdown and was named the Sun Belt Conference’s offensive player of the week.

Grainger received some national attention, too. He was part of the Davey O’Brien Award’s Great Eight, the Manning Award Stars of the Week list, and the PFF College Offensive Team of the Week. Nice accolades, but the easygoing Grainger was quick to pass along the credit.

“The offensive line protected me well and gave me time to make my reads and go through my progressions,” Grainger said. “You can’t do anything without the O-line.”

The line, which features four new starters, has been outstanding. Grainger has been sacked only three times. Given the time, Grainger has thrown for 803 yards and six touchdowns and has hit on 73.4% of his passes. He leads the Sun Belt in passing efficiency.

“He’s just been solid in every area,” Georgia State coach Shawn Elliott said. “His game has always been pretty good, running the football, throwing the football. I think he’s throwing the ball better than he has in the past and making better decisions. When you have knowledge and experience, the game becomes a little easier to play, and I think that’s what it’s doing for him now.”

Grainger also has been effective at distributing the ball. He’s connected with nine different receivers and was excited last week when freshman tight end Avion McBride got his first career reception. Robert Lewis has 17 catches and four touchdowns. Ja’Cyais Credle and Jacari Carter both have 10 receptions, and Tailique Williams has nine.

“It’s important that everybody gets their touches,” Grainger said. “It always makes me feel good to spread it out to other people so they can catch the ball and make plays. That’s always a great night for me.”

The Georgia State defense will be facing an excellent quarterback, too. Grayson McCall is a super senior who was chosen as the preseason Sun Belt offensive player of the year, not a stretch since he was the conference’s player of the year the past three seasons. McCall has thrown for 708 yards, including 271 at No. 25-ranked UCLA in the season opener, and four touchdowns. McCall was injured and did not play against GSU in 2021 but threw for 268 yards and two early touchdowns and ran for a score in Coastal Carolina’s 41-24 victory last year.

McCall’s favorite target is senior Sam Pinckney, a former Georgia State standout who transferred to Coastal Carolina in 2022, caught 71 passes and was first-team all-conference. Pinckney is a tall target with great hands and NFL potential. He has 15 catches – nine against UCLA – and two touchdowns.

The Chanticleers will be the most significant test for a GSU defense that has been retooled under new defensive coordinator Chad Staggs, who held the same position at Coastal Carolina. The Panthers have forced seven turnovers this season and been stubborn against the run. Linebacker Jontrey Hunter leads with 21 tackles, two forced fumbles and two pass breakups. Cornerback Gavin Pringle has two interceptions, one pick-six, and had an interception and a 12-yard sack against Charlotte.

This will be the seventh meeting between the two teams, with each winning three times. Oddly, the visiting team has won every game since the series began in 2017.