The Panthers looked as though they had finally found their quarterback two weeks ago. Kelton Hill played the best game of the year for a Georgia State Quarterback, completing 12 of 15 passes for 209 yards and 2 touchdowns. He also ran 14 times for 45 yards but had issues holding on to the ball, losing three fumbles. He looked poised in the pocket, made the throws he was asked to make, and most importantly, led his team to victory. Hill also got a lot of help in the running game as Donald Russell became the first back in Georgia State’s short history to eclipse the 100 yards rushing mark. Russell finished with 137 yards on 20 carries and scored the game winning touchdown in the 27-20 overtime victory.
However, Hill and the offense were much less impressive last week against the Roadrunners of UT San Antonio. In his first start on the road for the Panthers, Hill completed 6 for 14 passes for only 91 yards, 54 of which came on one touchdown pass to Albert Wilson. He also rushed 10 times for 41 yards. Russell ran the ball 21 times, but saw his productivity greatly decline, only gaining 87 yards and seeing his yards per carry average drop more than 2 yards from the week before. Albert Wilson continued to be the big playmaker for the Panthers when he caught the 54 yard pass from Hill, their third connection of 50 yards or more in 2 games. But he was limited to just that one catch.
Ultimately last week’s performance was the worst of the season for the Panthers. They were shutout against Houston, but that was against an FBS opponent that is still undefeated and now ranked 13th in the nation. UTSA is a first year program loaded with freshman starters and the Roadrunners were without their best defender. The offense got the ball with less than three minutes to play and in UTSA territory. However, they were only able to gain 3 yards on 3 plays, leading to a missed field goal by Christian Benvenuto.
This week, GSU will face a significantly lesser, yet possibly still formidable challenge against National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) opponent, the University of St. Francis (the "other" USF). The Fighting Saints have allowed a meager 15.1 points per game and 236.8 yards per game. They are led by twin brothers at Linebacker, Adam and Drew Tondini. The brothers have amassed 82 and 73 tackles, respectively, and have combined to make 22 tackles for a loss and recover 3 fumbles. The duo will look to fill the gaps and keep Donald Russell from grinding out yards up the middle. They are also the main cogs in the Fighting Saints pass rushing attack as the three starting defensive linemen have combined for only one sack on the year.
As stated in the defensive preview yesterday, the biggest difference between NAIA football and FCS football is size and speed along the offensive and defensive lines. USF runs a 3-4 defense that features Nose Guard Sean Leslie (6 foot 1, 252 pounds) who will line up across from Georgia State’s Center Ben Jacoby (6 foot 2 inches, 275 pounds), arguably the Panthers best offensive lineman. St. Francis does feature a beast of a defensive end in James Bowman (6 foot 1, 295 pounds), and although he has yet to record a sack on the year, he does have 8.5 tackles for a loss. GSU Tackles Clyde Yandell and Grant King will have a challenge keeping Bowman out of the backfield.
Outside of Bowman, Georgia State will have a significant size advantage along the line of scrimmage. The largest starting Linebacker of USF weighs just 218 pounds, and they have a starting defensive end that weighs only 230 pounds. USF simply has not faced an opponent with an offensive line of this size and caliber. The average size of the offensive linemen the Fighting Saints have faced this season is about 275 pounds, where Georgia State features offensive linemen that average 295 pounds. Because of this, the Panthers should have few issues running the football with Donald Russell grinding out first downs. If that is the case, St. Francis will have to stack the box and get multiple hands on him to slow him down, therefore opening the possibility for GSU to utilize the play action and deep ball to Albert Wilson.
Most importantly, Georgia State has to keep from beating themselves. Unnecessary penalties and turnovers will keep the Fighting Saints in the game and allow their offense the opportunity to bust a big play that could be catastrophic for Panthers hopes of getting a much needed win. If GSU can play smart, use their size to their advantage to run the football effectively, and continue to connect on big plays to Albert Wilson, then they should have few problems putting up big numbers against their weakest opposition since the opening game against Clark Atlanta.