Georgia State coach Shawn Elliott promised changes after two lackluster games, and he meant it.

The Panthers switched quarterbacks, benching Quad Brown in favor of Furman transfer Darren Grainger, and started Tucker Gregg at running back ahead of Destin Coates. The result was 421 total yards, the team’s best offensive showing of the season, and a 20-9 win over Charlotte at Center Parc Stadium.

“Winning the football game I felt happened exactly how it needed to happen,” Elliott said. “It was a tough contest. We really had to fight and claw and make everything happen. It wasn’t easy by any means.”

Grainger completed six of 12 passes for 139 yards and two touchdowns, with one interception, and rushed 17 times for 50 yards.

Gregg, a strong, sure-handed inside runner, carried a career-high 21 times for 71 yards. He was augmented in the second half by Jamyest Williams, the speedy transplanted cornerback, who ran seven times for 73 yards and one touchdown.

The one-two punch of Gregg and Williams was especially powerful on Georgia State’s final 90-yard, 13-play scoring drive -- all on the ground -- that put the game away. Running behind Georgia State’s big, veteran line, the duo ate up chunks of yardage and iced the game when Williams broke free for a 13-yard touchdown, his first as a Panther, with 1:38 remaining.

“I feel like we always play touchdown every time we go out there,” Grainger said. “At the 10, we had to just get the ball out, and once we did, we got to start running our offense and moving down the field.”

Georgia State tackles Charlotte's Grant DuBose (14) as he carries the ball in the first half of play Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021 at Center Parc Stadium in Atlanta. (Daniel Varnado/For the AJC)

Credit: Daniel Varnado

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Credit: Daniel Varnado

Elliott also promised a more-aggressive approach. It showed on offense when the Panthers (1-2) were 3-for-3 on fourth-down conversion attempts. It was evident on defense, as the Panthers had seven tackles for loss, two sacks, caused two fumbles and limited Charlotte (2-1) to 276 total yards.

Jordan Veneziale and Blake Carroll each had nine tackles, with Carroll coming away with a sack, a tackle for loss, one breakup and a forced fumble.

“When you’ve got a running game and a defense, you’ve got happy football coach,” Elliott said.

The change in the backfield infused life in the offense. Brown started every game last season as a redshirt freshman and threw for 2,278 yards and 17 touchdowns, but his job became at-risk after throwing for a combined 197 yards and no touchdowns in the first two games, both losses. Coates struggled in the first two games, running for 58 yards and a 2.4-yard average. Elliott said the decision to make the change was made on Sunday.

“We needed a spark,” Elliott said. “You certainly don’t light a spark on Thursday if you want it to catch fire on Saturday. You’ve got to do it early. After watching film, we felt like we needed to do something, and we talked about all the pluses and minuses. It’s just like any other position; if it was a left or right guard and he was struggling, we’d have to make a change and try to get something going.”

Georgia State quarterback Darren Grainger (3) is all smiles after leading the Panthers to victory over Charlotte with a final score of 20-9 Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021 at Center Parc Stadium in Atlanta. (Daniel Varnado/For the AJC)

Credit: Daniel Varnado

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Credit: Daniel Varnado

After a scoreless first quarter, Georgia State finally got a big play. Coates broke through the right side of the line and had no defenders in front of him. He was caught from behind by Charlotte’s Jon Alexander, who stripped the ball as Coates was falling around the 10. The fumble at the end of the 64-yard run was recovered by Charlotte’s Donta Armstrong and returned to the 33. Coates did not carry the ball again the rest of the game.

The 49ers then drove for a touchdown, with freshman Elijah Spencer scoring on a 36-yard slant from Chris Reynolds to give Charlotte a 7-0 lead.

After an exchange of punts, Georgia State struck for the tying score. Grainger connected with Ja’Cyais Credle for a 33-yard pass down the right side, then dropped a 35-yard pass in the arms of Jamari Thrash for a touchdown with 4:03 left in the half.

Charlotte got a safety on Georgia State’s first possession of the third quarter. On third down at the 14, the ball was snapped on the ground and past Grainger, who was able to pick it up under pressure and fire it out of bounds. But officials flagged the Panthers for intentional grounding, saying GSU’s intended receiver had gone out of bounds and was not eligible, which resulted in a safety an 9-7 Charlotte lead.

The Georgia State defense made a nice stand and forced the 49ers to turn it over on downs at the GSU 35. Then the Panthers scored on back-to-back passes against – a 27-yarder to Thrash and a 25-yarder to Credle, who had his first touchdown since transferring from Central Florida. The extra point was blocked and Georgia State led 13-9 with 5:06 left in the third quarter.

“You get those one-on-ones and you get some big catches from your receivers, it definitely boosts your confidence,” Grainger said.

The Panthers came up with another critical defensive play with 1:06 left. Charlotte’s Calvin Camp had the ball stripped by Carroll and recovered by Chris Bacon. The play underwent a lengthy review before GSU was given the ball at its own 7.

“That was definitely one of the plays that determined how the game was going to go because how close they were to the goal line,” Carroll said. “I’m not saying they would have scored, but they could have got three, and it just could have changed the game in general. It was a huge momentum shift.”