Thursday Night Sun Belt: Georgia State Tangles With Arkansas State
It’s always a good game, but the Panthers has never, ever, EVER defeated the Red Wolves.
One of the coldest games I ever attended was on November 23, 2013, when the Panthers rolled into Jonesboro to take on the Red Wolves with a dusting of snow still on the turf. The afternoon chill turned terribly bitter at halftime, when the Red Wolves trundled into the tunnel down 17-7. A smattering of boos descended upon the frozen gridiron.
Suddenly, A-State athletic director Terry Mohajir bounced onto the field with microphone in hand, and he delivered a rousing address that went something like, “HEY I KNOW Y’ALL DON’ T LIKE THE SCORE I DON’T EITHER BUT LET’S GET BEHIND THESE GUYS FOR THE SECOND HALF LET’S GO RED WOLVES! YEAH!”
Led by a Chris Stone pick six and a blocked punt-six, the Red Wolves put 21 points on the board in the third quarter and squeezed out an entertaining 35-33 victory. The bone-chilling misery of the first half was forgiven and forgotten.
A win over Georgia State this Thursday will go a long way to helping Red Wolves fans forget and forgive the last two games.
When Last These Titans Met
Georgia State and Arkansas State are coming of a one-year hiatus, making their last confrontation in 2016. The game was mostly a defensive struggle, with both offenses combining for just 636 yards. The real sizzle came in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter, when the Red Wolves’ Blaise Taylor returned a punt to the house, followed by Georgia State’s Tra Barnett returning the subsequent kickoff 90 yards for a TD.
Red Wolves came out on top 31-16.
Let’s Look at Some Numbers, Yes?
Entering the season, the Red Wolves were widely considered a powerhouse of the Sun Belt. By stark contrast, Georgia State was considered more a work in progress with a new quarterback behind center and a run game that didn’t seem much improved.
But entering into Week 8, the 3-3 Red Wolves and the 2-4 Panthers are both spinning their wheels in same bog.
Despite ringing up nearly 85 more yards of offense per game (365/449), Arkansas State is scoring only one point more per contest (22/23). The lack of scoring might be explained by the punchless red zone offense, ranked 88th in the nation.
As for the Panthers, whatever prowess they once boasted on defense has vanished. The once formidable D surrenders yards nearly equally on the ground (244) as they do through the air (247), ranking Georgia State 119th nationally for total defense.
If the Panthers Can’t Jumpstart the Red Wolves Offense, Nothing Can
Entering their sixth game of the season, Georgia State has tallied exactly four sacks for a loss of only nineteen yards. Arkansas State quarterback Justice Hansen has seen decent-to-excellent pass rushes all season, and four quarters of unmolested pocket-passing should do Hansen and his wide receivers good.
Versus Troy last week, the Panthers surrendered 557 yards of offense – 340 on the turf. In fact, Georgia State fields the 123rd ranked rushing D in the nation. That bodes well for the Red Wolves Law Firm of Murray, Weh-Weh & Wand, who were reduced to just 66 yards against Appalachian State last Tuesday.
In summary, these seems like the perfect confidence game for the Red Wolves offense – which had seen a decrease of points scored in four consecutive games.
The Injuries are Adding Up in Jonesboro
The Red Wolves opened the season losing highly-touted wide receiver Dahu Green to a busted ankle. Now, versatile wideout Brandon Bowling is done for the year, too. Plus, wideout Kendrick Edwards is still gimpy with sore ankles. To fill the receiving squad, the coaching staff has moved true freshman Nate Page from corner to wide receiver.
Georgia State’s Dan Ellington is Settling In
Ellington’s rep is that’s he’s a big dude and a duel threat, but after passing for 3 TDs in the opener against Kennesaw State, all of Ellington’s TD production came on the ground for the next three games. However, the 6-3 signal caller has tacked on two more passing scores in his last two, and tossed for a solid 272 yards against the Troy Trojan’s very good defense. And despite Ellington’s mediocre pass numbers, his leading receiver, Penny Hart, ranks third in the Sun Belt with 395 yards.
Still, Ellington’s legs are the real threat. In fact, Ellington is the bulk of the Panthers’ running game, which ranks 9th in the Sun Belt. Running QBs have had success against the Red Wolves.
Panthers Player to Watch: Seth Page
The freshman running back is used sparingly, but Page has seen his carries (and impact) increase the last two games. In a blowout win against ULM, Page average 16 yards a carry and pounded in two scores. Against Troy, he wasn’t as spectacular, be he still averaged more than 4 per carry. The Red Wolves have given up a pile of yards on the ground, and this could be an opportunity for Page to deliver a signature game.
Red Wolves Player to Watch: Justice Hansen
The Red Wolves gunslinger has seemed trigger-shy of late, and now he must rebound from a 3-pick, zero touchdown performance against Appalachian State. Since hurling a record-setting six touchdowns against SEMO in the home opener, Hansen and the air attack has been fairly quiet. The Red Wolves need a big game from Hansen to carry the team for the remainder of the season.
Red Wolves Win This Game IF
Coach Blake Anderson needs to dial the offense up to RELENTLESS. Hansen must forget about his performance against the Mountaineers, and the wide receivers need to help him out by making big plays.
Panthers Win This Game IF
Coach Shawn Elliot needs to motivate his defensive line to rattle Hansen. Three-man fronts have had uncanny success breaking through the Red Wolves offensive line. If Elliot gets aggressive on D, the Panthers could control the game by forcing errors.
What’s Gonna Happen, Cap’n?
I’m more an admiral than a captain, but I think the Red Wolves dramatically right the ship on Thursday Night, before a nationally televised audience.
The Red Wolves host the Panthers on Thursday, 6:30 PM on ESPNU.
A former notary public, Jeremy Harper is a professional writer and Chief Instigator for Storm the Castle Creative. He spends much of his free time staring blankly into space.