I don’t know about the players and coaches, but as a fan of Penn State, it’s tough to get excited about an opponent like Georgia State when the Lions are coming off of a big win over Pitt and have Big Ten play on the horizon. Still, this is one of 12 games on the schedule, so it shouldn’t be taken for granted, especially when Penn State could still use some seasoning on both sides of the ball.
As I told Underdog Dynasty in this interview’s counterpart, I’m not sure how much we’ll learn about these Lions from watching what most fans expect to be a blowout. On the other hand, maybe if Penn State gets ahead early, it will give the quarterbacks a chance to work on some possession throws that have given them issues in the past.
As for the Panthers, they can’t be feeling too confident coming into Beaver Stadium after dropping their home opener to Tennessee State. To learn more about Georgia State and what the Sun Belt program brings to the table, we’re bringing in Adam Luckett from SB Nation blog Underdog Dynasty to answer some questions. Thanks for joining us, Adam!
Black Shoe Diaries: Georgia State went 3-9 last year, but one of those losses put a serious scare into Wisconsin. As big underdogs on the road, the Panthers led 17-13 in the fourth quarter before eventually falling 23-17. Is another close game in the cards for Georgia State's next Big Ten opponent?
Underdog Dynasty: I don’t think so. That Wisconsin team struggled to put up points all season and Georgia State kind of caught them at the perfect time. The Panthers just do not have the personnel to keep up with this electric Penn State offense and I would be fairly shocked if the score is still within two possessions by the end of the second quarter.
BSD: Conner Manning showed a lot of potential under center last year, and he got off to a great start against FCS foe Tennessee State by completing 14 of 17 passes. However, he was forced out of the game with a head injury. Will Manning play against Penn State, or will it be up to backup Aaron Winchester to shoulder the load?
UD: Manning is expected to make the start, but expect to see Winchester. Manning, the former Utah transfer, can really sling it from the pocket and he has the best arm in the Sun Belt. However, he’s a statue in the pocket and that opens him up for big hits, as he does not give an anemic running attack any help whatsoever. The staff will give Winchester some reps in certain situations just to provide some type of rushing threat. Expect a lot of read-option looks when Winchester gets into the game.
BSD: The newly-minted Georgia State Stadium is where the Atlanta Braves used to play, and it's expected to be a better fit for the program than the Georgia Dome. Are the new venue and new head coach Shawn Elliott already having a big affect on recruiting and fan morale?
UD: Absolutely. The crowds at the Georgia Dome were absolutely horrible and it provided no home field advantage whatsoever. Now they have a unique venue that holds around 23,000 and it will allow the Panthers to have a legit home stadium in downtown Atlanta. It appears that this is having a huge impact on recruiting and that may be the biggest reason why Elliott was hired. The Panthers are really hitting the south Florida area hard and should have one of the best classes in the Sun Belt this recruiting class. The new stadium has provided a spark to everyone touched by the program and they were able to have a sellout in the home opener against Tennessee State.
BSD: After suffering major injuries in 2015 and 2016, Taz Bateman led Georgia State in receptions and receiving yards while scoring a touchdown against Tennessee State. Is the tailback supposed to have this big of an impact on the passing game going forward?
UD: They really are using that as an extension of the run game. Ever since their program launched, the Panthers have just not been able to run the football and the hope was that longtime offensive line coach Elliott could fix that. It’s a real worry for this team going forward and I believe offensive coordinator Travis Trickett has to get creative to make sure the backs are staying involved and making a positive impact on the game.
BSD: The 2016 Georgia State defense was a bend-but-don't-break unit that did a great job limiting the big play. That seems to match up well with a Penn State offense that relies on big plays. However, new defensive coordinator Nate Fuqua had more aggressive tendencies at Wofford. Did the defense play more aggressively in its 2017 debut, or was it more like the 2016 squad?
UD: It appeared to me that they were leaning to more bend-but-don’t-break in the opener. The Panthers were really concerned with Tennessee State quarterback Treon Harris and his ability to hurt them with his legs. However, you may see this defense get more aggressive after giving up 238 rushing yards to an FCS opponent. Georgia State has two outstanding corners in Jerome Smith and Chandon Sullivan, so Fuqua will have the ability to get pretty aggressive on passing downs.
BSD: The Panthers are huge underdogs on Saturday. How do you see the game going for Georgia State?
UD: I think it gets pretty ugly quick. I find it hard to believe that Georgia State will slow down the Penn State rushing attack at all and the Panthers have literally no one that will be able to match up with stud tight end Mike Gesicki. The Georgia State offense, meanwhile, looked pretty awful against Tennessee State and going up against a really good defense, I think things could get ugly pretty quick. Penn State rolls at Beaver Stadium.
Thanks again to Adam for helping us learn more about Georgia State. For more on the Panthers and other mid-major programs, be sure to follow Underdog Dynasty all season long!