Georgia State rested and ready for stretch run

Georgia State's Javon Dennis, here closing in on Auburn's TJ Finley, has been a quiet contributor for the Panthers this season.
Georgia State's Javon Dennis, here closing in on Auburn's TJ Finley, has been a quiet contributor for the Panthers this season.

Credit: AP

After a difficult stretch of six games to open the season, the Georgia State football team was grateful for last week’s open date. The players enjoyed an abbreviated work week before scattering. Even coach Shawn Elliott was able to decompress with some time at the lake and a visit to the Georgia State Fair, where he searched for the scariest rides possible.

All Panthers parties have since reconvened for the home stretch, which starts with homecoming against Texas State (2-4, 1-1 Sun Belt) at 2 p.m. Saturday at Center Parc Stadium (TV – ESPN-Plus, Radio – WRAS-FM 88.5).

Georgia State (2-4, 1-1) hopes to regain the momentum it built in a 55-21 win over Louisiana-Monroe on Oct. 9. With three consecutive road games to follow – at rival Georgia Southern, at Western Division leader Louisiana-Lafayette and at No. 14-ranked Coastal Carolina – Georgia State can’t afford a misstep if it wants a chance to earn a third consecutive bowl appearance.

“The first six games were all tough, and we learned a lot, but we needed a break,” Elliott said. “We definitely needed that time to get away and reflect on what we’ve done and what we’re going to do, so I wasn’t sad to see the break come. If we continue to work hard in practice, I don’t see why we shouldn’t be able to continue that momentum, offensively and defensively.”

The offense has settled on Darren Grainger as quarterback, and his role seems secure after accounting for a school-record five touchdowns against Louisiana-Monroe.

“I don’t think you talk to him about the next step, it just gradually happens,” Elliott said. “Our message to him is, let’s do things that you’re comfortable doing, whether it’s on the throw game or the run game. We’re just going to let him figure it out. He’s going to gradually grow, and a lot of things are going to become a lot easier for him as he develops in game situations.”

The off-week gave addition time for healing, too. Left guard Shamarious Gilmore (ankle) should be at full strength, and receivers Sam Pinckney and Cornelius McCoy had an extra week to treat their uncooperative hamstrings.

The absence of Pinckney and McCoy have allowed sophomores Jamari Thrash and Ja’Cais Credle to take a larger role in the passing attack. Thrash leads the team with 17 catches and two touchdowns, and Credle, who had a personal-best seven catches at Louisiana-Monroe, has 14 receptions.

The defense continues to uncover new contributors, such as defensive end Javon Dennis, who has seized his opportunity to play. Dennis has 16 tackles, 1½ for loss, on hurry and one fumble recovery.

“Javon plays extremely hard for us,” Elliott said. “He’s a quiet individual and for whatever reason you don’t hear his name a lot. He’s not one of those headline guys. But what a great job he’s done. He goes about his business, he works hard, he knows his role and when he gets a chance, he makes plays for us.”

Elliott also was encouraged by the aggressive signs from the defense that he saw against Louisiana-Monroe. Antavious Lane got the team’s first interception of the season, and Elliott hopes that will spur more turnovers in the second half. Those takeaways sparked last year’s turnaround and resulted in a bowl appearance.

“We’re looking for turnovers,” Elliott said. “Turnovers is such a key to any football game. You’ve got to prevent from turning the football over, and then you’ve got to get your hands on turnovers – moreso than what we’ve been doing.”

Georgia State has six takeaways – five fumble recoveries and one interception – and have 10 sacks. It might be a good week for the Panthers to change that trend. Texas State has 13 turnovers, the most in the Sun Belt Conference, losing six fumbles and five interceptions.

Texas State is coming off a 31-28 home loss to Troy. The Bobcats are led by quarterback Brady McBride, who ranks sixth in the conference with 1,204 yards passing and 12 touchdowns. Freshman Calvin Hill leads the rushers with 311 yards. Issiah Nixon leads the conference with four forced fumbles.

Texas State leads the series 4-3 and has won the past two meetings, mostly recently 37-34 in triple overtime in 2019 in San Marcos, Texas.

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