The Shawn Elliot era at Georgia State had a historic start, despite the early tribulations that befell the team. Elliot took the Panthers to its second bowl game and first bowl victory in school history in 2017 while achieving the program’s first winning season.
Georgia State kicked off the Georgia State Stadium era with a disappointing 17-10 loss against Tennessee State and then took its body-bag shellacking against Penn State the following week.
As it appeared the program was in for another long season, Georgia State rattled off three consecutive road victories and six wins in seven games. That was enough to procure bowl eligibility in a hurricane-shortened season.
While the team had new-coach-momentum heading into 2017, the consensus view is that Georgia State will take a step back this year as it works to build experience and field a title contending team in 2019.
Elliot and the Panthers feel otherwise, however. Georgia State has an offense with several question marks littered throughout but has an opportunity to play with a true identity for the first time under Elliot.
Last season, what little offense Georgia State could muster came through All-Conference super-talent Penny Hart at wide receiver. The run game was abysmal and the defense itself could be credited with several of the team’s wins.
This season will come with new flavor as a dual threat steps in behind the center and a new-look backfield looks to change the Panthers’ rushing woes of years past.
Replacing Conner Manning will, in all likelihood, be JUCO transfer Dan Ellington. Elliot wants a wide open offense that moves quickly and a dual threat quarterback like Ellington could be just the weapon the Panthers’ offense needs to begin unlocking their potential.
Ellington gives Georgia State a true option threat who could do some damage on the ground, picking up the Panthers’ ground attack himself.
The production of well-established receivers Hart and Tamir Jones will likely go down, but the trade off is an offense that can move downfield in several different ways.
The running back situation is the biggest area of concern on the team. Last year, Georgia State was 10th in the Sun Belt in rushing and the top three backs combined to average 3.3 yards per carry.
The top two backs are gone, leaving Taz Bateman as the most experienced player alongside former UAB Blazer Demarcus Kirk. Tra Barnett and Darius Stubbs have also been in the system, giving Elliot and offensive coordinator Travis Trickett four starter options.
To make things more interesting, the Panthers have also added three freshmen to the mix this off-season. Destin Coates, Dawson Hill and Seth Page are on campus and a redshirt isn’t likely, at least for now.
If you’ve been counting, that’s seven running backs who could see the field this fall. It’s not far-fetched to think that as many as five will play in the opener against Kennesaw State.
With as bad as the unit has been in the past, almost anything would be an improvement. This group, though, could grow into a dangerous stable over time.
Elliot is an offensive lineman guy and has quickly put together a formidable line. Three upperclassmen will be starting and Elliot already has several of his recruits vying for rotation time in 2018.
Having a solid group in front of the new faces in the backfield is extremely important and the Panthers have seemingly checked that box off.
Defensively, Georgia State figures to maintain. While just five starters return, the Panthers were deep a year ago and still have plenty of experience throughout.
Talented corner Jerome Smith returns and has a strong group of safeties with him, as well. Georgia State’s secondary was surprisingly rough last season but will likely improve on the 251 passing yards allowed per game last year, especially considering the amount of QB turnover the conference is facing.
In the middle, Michael Shaw and Chase Middleton give Georgia State a stout and veteran 1-2 that anchors the entire side of the ball. With Victor Heyward back at inside linebacker, too, this year’s LB unit could be among the best the Panthers have fielded in its short history.
Last year, Georgia State’s rush defense ended up doing quite well despite the attrition on the defensive line. This season, there is very little attrition, setting the Panthers up nicely for another strong season up front.
All-Conference lineman Marterious Allen is back along with Terry Thomas. Those two, at the very least, will attract enough attention from opposing OL’s to free up holes for the linebackers in the 3-4 scheme.
While there are questions, there is talent. There is also plenty of experienced talent as well. Georgia State has one of the toughest road schedules in the Sun Belt but do have a favorable home slate. Navigating the schedule while the quarterback and running backs gel will be vital, but if the offense clicks early then the Panthers will be bowl eligible again. 8-5, 6-2
Georgia State will need to win its home games and find something on the road in order to notch another winning season. So, basically the opposite of last season. Playing a tricky FCS opponent before back-to-back road games against North Carolina State and Memphis is tough enough, but the Panthers must also face the Sun Belt’s Big Three on the road. With the personnel questions Georgia State has at critical positions on offense, things could get ugly. 3-9, 2-6