Panthers Look to Slow Down Top NAIA Offense

Defensive Preview: Georgia State's defense will square off this week against one of the top offenses in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) as they play host to the St. Francis Fighting Saints. The Saints rank third in NAIA in points scored at 47.2 points per game, and have been a model of efficiency, scoring touchdowns 91% of the time they enter the red zone.

Sophomore Quarterback E.J. White leads the St. Francis attack, having put up 2,420 yards of total offense (1,791 passing and 629 rushing) while throwing for 28 TDs and running for 2. St. Francis uses a two running back tandem in Senior Garen Demery and Sophomore Anthony Hubert. Together they have run for 1,246 yards and 18 touchdowns. Hubert seems to be more of a threat to break one deep as he is averaging more than 10 yards per carry, while Demery is more the traditional workhorse getting twice as many carries and churning out 5 yards per carry. If that weren't enough, the Saints also feature a big time play maker in the receiving corps, freshman speedster Lexus Jackson. Jackson has amassed 819 yards on only 39 catches (21 yards per catch) and has scored 8 touchdowns. The Saints also have two other contributors in the passing game in Junior Desmond Page and Sophomore Elliot Allen. Page has pulled in 32 catches for 402 yards and 8 TDs while Allen has 30 catches for 420 yards and 7 TDs. Allen has also proven to be a threat in the return game after returning kickoff and punt for touchdowns earlier this year.

While St. Francis' offensive statistics alone would certainly give a defensive coach something to lose sleep over, Georgia State faithful must remember who those statistics have come against. The Saint's opponents have a combined record of 30-45 and they have faced an entirely NAIA schedule. Their only victory against a team with a winning record came against William Penn, 36-35. In that contest, St. Francis incredibly came back from a 27 point deficit to stun the Statesmen with a touchdown and 2 point conversion and take the lead with 13 seconds remaining.

Georgia State's defense has played very well the last few weeks despite frequently being put in bad situations by the Panthers' lackluster play on offense. After allowing more than 35 points for four straight weeks, the defense has improved with each outing and has done more than enough to put Georgia State in a position to win the game. Early on in the season the Panthers were gashed by teams running the ball, particularly up the middle. Over the last three games, however, the Panthers have only allowed 3.1, 3.6, and 3.3 yards per carry while facing teams which feature stout rushing attacks. The Panthers will look to continue that trend as the rushing attack GSU faces this week is very productive, but is fueled by one of the smallest offensive lines the Panthers will face all season.

The biggest difference in NAIA football and FCS football is size and speed along the offensive and defensive lines. In the Saints' two losses to Saint Xavier and Grand View the largest defenders they faced on each team were 270 and 285 pounds respectively. Most of the defenses they have faced have featured Defensive Ends in the 235-250 pound range and Defensive tackles in the 270-285 pound range. The Panthers are led by Defensive Ends Christo Bilukidi (6 foot 5, 290 pounds) and A.J. Portee (6 foot 4, 250 pounds). It is safe to say that the Saints offensive line has not faced ends of this size and caliber this season. Linebacker Jake Muasau will be key for the Panthers as he tries to use his size and speed to attack the weakest offensive that he has faced since the home opener against Clark Atlanta.

While the Panthers should have the edge at the line of scrimmage, they have to take away the big play. As previously mentioned, the St. Francis offense is capable of busting a play for a long gain at any time. The GSU secondary must stay disciplined and finish their tackles. The Saints should not be able to move the ball methodically on long drives, but if the Panthers do not play well on the back end and finish plays, then look out for the Saints to break a few long ones and keep the game competitive.

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