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No. 5 Penn State vs. Georgia State: Game Preview

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Week three marks the final nonconference game of the regular season, and the first night game of 2017.

Iowa v Penn State Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

Penn State seeks to remain perfect in its final non-conference game of the regular season, and first-ever contest against Georgia State.

(5) Penn State (2-0) vs. Georgia State (0-1)

Kickoff: 7:30 p.m., Beaver Stadium, State College, PA

The Betting Line: Penn State -38.5

TV: BTN- Brandon Gaudin (play-by-play), Glen Mason (analyst), Elise Menaker (sideline)

Weather: Warm and sunny during the day with a high near 80, and a clear night with temperatures dropping into the 60s.

COACHES:

James Franklin:

PENN STATE RECORD: 27-15, 4th Year

OVERALL RECORD: 51-30, 7th Year

VS. GEORGIA STATE: First Meeting

Shawn Elliot:

GEORGIA STATE RECORD: 0-1, 1st Year

OVERALL RECORD: 1-6, 2nd Year

VS. PENN STATE: First Meeting

NOW THE FUN PART....

GEORGIA STATE OFFENSE VS. PENN STATE DEFENSE

There isn’t much concrete detail about Georgia State thus far into the season considering they only have one game under their belt in a loss to FCS Tennessee State in week one, and are coming off a week two bye. The Panthers offense is led by former Utah Ute Conner Manning, who connected on 14 of 17 passes for 159 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions in week one. This is his second year as a starter, coming off a season where he completed 55 percent of his passes for 2,684 yards with 16 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. He is not much of a threat with his legs, so expect Penn State to bring the heat to make sure he doesn’t get too comfortable in the pocket.

The Panthers ground game struggled against Tennessee State as leading rusher Taz Bateman managed just 27 yards with a 2.3 yard per carry average. Bateman is a threat out of the backfield however, catching six passes in week one that included a 36 yard touchdown. Georgia State features a big-play tight end in Ari Werts, who like Mike Gesicki, uses his size and athleticism to create mismatches. He will likely be Manning’s security blanket throughout the evening.

Penn State’s defense has more than exceeded expectations thus far, allowing just one touchdown and 14 total points in the first two weeks. Marcus Allen is proving to be perhaps the best defensive back in college football. His presence seems to be felt everywhere on the field- he is the enforcer and the spiritual leader that has allowed the defense to play at such a high level to start off the season. The Nittany Lions defensive line is also proving to be an outstanding unit, despite its relative youth. The rotation is deep and filled with talented players who are coming into their own. Keeping the line fresh at all times is proving to be problematic for opposing offensive lines as the game continues.

Penn State’s linebackers struggled at times against Pitt. While an incredibly speedy unit, many need more seasoning to eliminate overrunning the play and finding themselves out of position. While this is something that could prove problematic as the schedule becomes more difficult, it is something that is teachable and can be adjusted with more experience.

GEORGIA STATE DEFENSE VS. PENN STATE OFFENSE

The Panthers defense was the clear strength of the team in 2016, with plenty of the key players returning. The defensive effort went a long way towards allowing Georgia State to hang with their opponents, despite a lethargic offense- including a near-upset of Wisconsin with the Badgers ultimately squeaking past 23-17.

The defense is built to be flexible to defend the wide open, and at times gimmicky, attacks found throughout the Sun Belt. While they have experience facing offenses that are similar to Penn State, they will likely have trouble keeping up with the overall talent level of the Nittany Lions.

Georgia State has a talented secondary, with two standouts in conerbacks Jerome Smith and Chandon Sullivan. Michael Shaw is a playmaker at linebacker, and is often used to get after the quarterback. He also contributed 12 tackles for loss in 2016.

Penn State will likely stick to its horses early in the contest and try to break away early by getting the ball in the hands of Saquon Barkley, Mike Gesicki, DaeSean Hamilton and DeAndre Thompkins, among others. If the Nittany Lions pull away early, it will be interesting to see their approach to the second half. The obvious direction would be to have their starters rest ahead of the start of the Big Ten schedule in week four while getting the reserves valuable playing time. However, don’t be surprised if Joe Moorhead uses it as another opportunity to open up the playbook a bit and get more things on film that will cause headaches for defensive coordinators as they prepare to stop Penn State’s prolific offense, where suddenly a 31-point (before you yell at me in the comments, this doesn’t include Marcus Allen’s safety) performance is seen as a step back.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Brandon Wright is pulling double-duty as the Panthers punter and kicker. He nailed his only field goal attempt in week one, a 20-yarder. His career long is just 27 yards, which was his only successful attempt in 2016, when he went one of two in a reserve role. His only punt of the season went a measly 26 yards, but he did average 39.8 yards per punt with a long of 60 yards in 2016.

Well, it’s now official- Saquon Barkley is the primary kick returner. While Barkley’s playmaking skills are undeniable, it seems odd considering that he carries such a heavy load on offense, and there are many other capable returners on the roster in reserve roles, such as Miles Sanders, Nick Scott and Brandon Polk. Penn State has an incredibly dangerous punt returner in DeAndre Thompkins, who seems to be a threat for a big gain whenever he has room in front of him.

Blake Gillikin is the punter that Penn State had been sorely missing for years. He is currently averaging 44.9 yards per punt and is regularly able to flip the field and/or pin the opponent deep as needed.

PREDICTION

Penn State- 49 , Georgia State- 7

If you were going to pick an automatic victory for Penn State in 2017, this is the one. Georgia State is a Sun Belt squad coming off a 3-9 season, and a program that fielded its first football team in 2010 before making an early leap to FBS. The Panthers are still seeking an identity as they work on building the program.

Georgia State should have trouble just moving the ball against a surprisingly stout Nittany Lions defense. As long as Penn State’s offense makes plays, this game should be over early as the Nittany Lions don’t look back on their way to a 3-0 start to the season.

Saquon Barkley rushes for 140 yards and three total touchdowns before exiting the game, while DeAndre Thompkins hauls in a bomb for an early 70 yard touchdown strike. On defense, Shareef Miller and Kevin Givens each contribute two sacks apiece, while Grant Haley picks off a pass for the second week in a row.