Against the University of Rhode Island on Saturday, Panther fans finally saw what they had been looking for. GSU ran it early (opening the game with three straight rushes), and often (34 rushing attempts on the day, 21 by Russell), to gain a total of 274 yards rushing. In the process Donald Russell set Georgia State school records with 201 yards rushing, 236 all-purpose yards, and three touchdowns scored, the first of which was a 35-yard touchdown catch from Ben McLane, the first touchdown reception of Russell’s career. For this effort Russell was named the Colonial Athletic Association Offensive Player of the Week, and now leads the CAA in rushing at 106.1 yards per game.
"I'm just so happy to get this win. I wanted this for my team," said Russell. "Our line did a great job, our wide receivers did a great job blocking. Coach Bond made some great calls that got me some looks, and my o-line took me to the promised land."
On the Panther’s second series, Kelton Hill showed his progress as a wide receiver, catching two balls for 19 yards that set up a 45-yard rush for a touchdown by Russell, his longest scoring run in a GSU uniform and the third-longest in Panther history.
GSU’s next two series featured seven pass plays and only two rush attempts. Both drives ended in punts.
Early in the second quarter, the Panther’s went back to the ground attack and quickly went 28 yards on two carries by Russell, which set-up a touchdown reception by Travis Evans when he took a shovel pass from McLane and ran 36 yards for the score. However, GSU’s next two drives had a pass-to-rush ratio of 7-to-3, and they were only able to come away with three points on a 40-yard Field Goal from Will Lutz, the longest field goal of his career and the longest for the Panthers since last year's South Alabama game. That sent the Panthers into halftime leading 24-0.
Georgia State started the second half in great field position after a 25-yard return by Albert Wilson and a personal foul allowed the Panthers to start their drive on the URI 43-yard line. A 30-yard rush by Russell was followed by a 3-yard loss on the next play – the only yards lost rushing on the day. After a seven-yard completion to Emanuel Ogbuehi, the Panthers were unable to complete a pass on third down and were forced to kick a field goal.
The Panthers scored again on a nine-play drive that ended with three straight rushes by Russell that covered the final 41 yards for a touchdown. Toward the end of the third quarter, the Panthers began a drive that included rushes of 19, 2, 15, and 3 yards and one pass for 29 yards to Albert Wilson. As the fourth quarter started, the drive was completed with a 10 yard rush by Kelton Hill and a 2 yard run for a touchdown by Travis Evans to make the score 41-0. McLane and Russell did not play the rest of the game, and GSU did not score any more points.
Walking off the field with the game ball in his hand, GSU head coach Bill Curry said, "Somebody handed this to me, but this ball is for our football team. This is so wonderful and so sweet, there are no words."
It was indeed a team victory as in addition to Russell’s performance, Ben McLane passed for a career-best 213 yards and two touchdowns, and Travis Evans scored twice. However, perhaps the most encouraging statistics were that the Panthers did not commit a turnover, allow a sack, or miss a kick.
"We showed what we can do when we play together and don't turn the ball over", Curry said.
Defensively, Georgia State held Rhode Island to 288 yards, held URI to a third-down conversion rate of 4 of 14, recorded one sack, and forced two fumbles (recovered one) and one interception.
Past areas of concern for the Panther’s that lingered against URI included third down conversions (1 of 9) and return yards allowed on kickoffs (URI averaged 23.1 yards per return).
Georgia State returns home this week to face what is possibly the best-known school that they have ever hosted in the Georgia Dome when they take on Villanova for Homecoming next Saturday at 3:30 p.m.