After pummeling Delaware State 68-0 last week at home, the Western Michigan Broncos hit the road this week for an intriguing contest with the Georgia State Panthers on Saturday. It’s the first-ever meeting between the two programs, and GSU is also 1-2 this season after coming off of a 7-5 (5-3 Sun Belt) campaign in 2017.
After picking up a 24-20 win in their home opener against Kennesaw State, the Panthers got blown out on the road in back-to-back weeks against the NC State Wolfpack (41-7) and the Memphis Tigers (59-22). Against KSU, the offense was pretty balanced with 38 runs and 28 passes on the day as the team racked up 315 yards. Quarterback Dan Ellington accounted for 264 of those yards with 77 yards on the ground and three passing touchdowns.
Defensively, GSU stepped up when it mattered most as held Kennesaw State to 5-15 on third down and only allowed one touchdown in four trips into the red zone. The Panther special teams dominated field position with Brandon Wright putting four kickoffs into the endzone, Wright punting at 53.8 yards per clip and downing KSU inside the 20-yard line three times, and Penny Hart flipping the field in the return game with 50 yards on two kickoff returns.
For Western Michigan to stop the Panthers, it needs to take away the quarterback runs and make GSU one-dimensional. If the Broncos can shut that down, Georgia State might turn to freshman running back Destin Coates, who registered 111 yards on 18 carries in the last two games, or its preseason All-American wide receiver in Hart. The athletes for GSU can create problems for WMU if they are not accounted for.
The offense for Western Michigan should have some success on Saturday as Georgia State has allowed 534 yards per game. The tandem of LeVante Bellamy and Jamauri Bogan will be a lot to handle for the Panthers in the run game while Jon Wassink needs to take that next step in being an efficient quarterback and manage the game effectively. After not playing against Delaware State, D’Wayne Eskridge is back at receiver and brings an explosive element to the passing game with 10 catches for 260 yards in two games.
Special teams could be an area where Georgia State has a distinct advantage on Saturday. Nick Mihalic has only averaged 35.5 yards per punt this season, WMU changed kickers after Josh Grant missed two field goals from under 30 yards away, and the kickoff return unit hasn’t made much of a difference on field position. This is a phase where the Panthers are able to hang in the game if they can make the Broncos drive the length of the field on offense and can create short fields for their offense.
I expect Western Michigan to have their way with Georgia State on offense as the Broncos have some dynamic players of offense and GSU has no way to account for them. Defending the Panthers will be a challenge for WMU, but if it can win the early downs and make them one-dimensional, the team will have opportunities to get off the field. This is the kind of game where special teams scare me because the teams are fairly even talent-wise so a few breaks in favor of the GSU special teams can make the difference in the game. 34-24 WMU with the Panthers rallying late.