When Georgia State took the final kneel at Neyland Stadium, shock overcame the college football world. The Panthers, a long-struggling program since they joined the FBS ranks in 2013, astonished an SEC opponent in front of over 85,000 fans — and it wasn’t even as close as the final score suggested.
It wasn’t as memorable as Week 1, but the Panthers took care of business against Furman despite trailing by 17 in the second quarter. As one of two 2-0 in teams in the Sun Belt, Georgia State is tasked with maintaining its unblemished record by surviving a visit to Western Michigan. The Broncos are coming off a 51-17 loss to Michigan State, but they managed to dispatch Georgia State in 34-15 fashion last season in Atlanta.
To preview the Broncos’ upcoming opponent, Ben Moore (@BenMoore247) of PantherTalk, a 247Sports blog that focuses on all things Georgia State, joins Hustle Belt for a Q&A:
Steve Helwick, Hustle Belt: Western Michigan won decisively in Atlanta last season, leading by as much as 25 in the third quarter. What differences and similarities exist between the Georgia State team we saw in last year’s matchup and Shawn Elliott’s current squad?
Ben Moore, PantherTalk: The biggest thing right away is that Western Michigan caught GSU at possibly the lowest point of the season and in the midst of a major slide defensively. A devastating loss at NC State that cost the Panthers two starting cornerbacks to injury, a blow out loss at Memphis on national TV and that was game vs. the Broncos was the first home game in four weeks. If I recall correctly, it actually didn’t start out terribly as the was tied 3-3 early in the 2nd quarter.
Turnovers were a major issue in that game and GSU has played very clean offensively so far this season. The Panthers are averaging 43 points per game and is converting 57.14% of its 3rd downs so far this year which is good for 10th in the FBS ranks. Georgia State was also one of the youngest teams in the nation last year with 23 freshmen seeing the field. The roster is still very young this season as 48 scholarship players are either freshmen or sophomores.
There is a different mindset in year 3 for head coach Shawn Elliott and 2018 was only his second losing season as a player or coach so several things changed this off season including a new strength and conditioning coach and several new assistant coaches on both sides of the ball. It’s very early but the Panthers do have the look of a team that has the potential to vault into the top of the Sun Belt if they can stay healthy.
Helwick: How has Georgia State, both team personnel and fans, handled the national spotlight after upsetting Tennessee in Week 1?
Moore: That win was, simply put, earth shaking and credit to GSU Athletics as they were completely ready for it. Forbes Magazine put out a story about it detailing it.
The University was on fire and the city of Atlanta, which often overlooks GSU, had its full attention. For a program that has historically struggled gaining fan support due, in large part, to the lack of success (the win over Tennessee was only its 30th all time in 9 seasons). I was in attendance in Neyland that afternoon and I could tell right away that the players had no idea what just happened and the overwhelming surge of media attention the week after was likely one of the coaching staffs biggest in season challenges since arriving in December 2016. We often forget that these are 18 to 22 year olds and heard for an entire week in person, in class and on social media how big that win was. It’s why last Saturday was predictable and even more impressive how GSU took a deep breath and outscored a quality FCS opponent 45-22 in the final three quarters at home.
Helwick: Georgia State matched its win total from last year with an expected win over Furman from the FCS. But the Panthers trailed 20-3 until the late second quarter. What did you learn about Georgia State during Week 2’s 48-42 win?
Moore: We wrote last week that the biggest challenge for the Panthers would be handling prosperity and it played out very predictably. Georgia State struggled defensively in the first quarter and offensively had some mental errors early. After that, the GSU offense led by Quarterback Dan Ellington simply couldn’t be stopped and I believe scored touchdowns on 4 straight possessions. Coach Elliott said post game that he was glad the game played out that way because there are plenty of lessons to be learned in how to respect an opponent that you’re favored to win against, especially at home.
I expect a much more focused and hungry group traveling to Kalamazoo on Saturday evening.
Helwick: Western Michigan presents the Panthers defense with a handful of offensive weapons, including quarterback Jon Wassink and running back LeVante Bellamy. Which WMU player should the Georgia State defense be most wary of, and which Panther will rise to the occasion and deliver a strong defensive performance Saturday?
Moore: I think it starts and ends with Wassink. He’s a very good QB and someone I had circled preseason as one of the tougher signal callers GSU would face because, in all honesty, Jarrett Guarantano of Tennessee is pretty average and I believe there are a handful of Group of Five Quarterbacks who could perform much better than he could with the amount of talent he is surrounded by. The Panthers struggled with a option offense of Furman not from the rushing yards side of things but the play action pass as the safeties began to cheat and were repeatedly beaten over the top. I believe there will be some tweaks to the scheme and the rotation to ensure they’re ready for a very good Bronco offense.
Helwick: The Broncos’ defense didn’t deliver its finest performance against a struggling Michigan State offense, allowing 582 yards in a 51-17 loss to the Spartans. After posting just 15 points on the unit in 2018, how do you expect Dan Ellington and company to perform against Western Michigan’s defense?
Moore: This is one of the more dynamic offenses that Western Michigan will face. The Panthers Quarterback is a legit dual threat guy who runs to set up the pass as well as can beat you to the edge with his legs. The GSU wide receiving and tight end corps may be as deep and talented as I’ve ever seen with five different players who have caught touchdowns so far this season. The running game is also an area to watch as the Georgia State offensive line is a talented and experience bunch. With Dan Ellington coming off a game where he got hit right on the right shin, I’d expect the coaching staff to allow the Panthers six scholarship running backs to carry more of the load on Saturday.
Helwick: Who wins in Kalamazoo on Saturday, and what’s your final score prediction?
Moore: Full disclosure — I’ve been historically terrible with score predictions so I rarely make them anymore. I think Saturday is a bit of a litmus test for GSU. They had a huge road victory and a nail biting close victory at home. Now the team heads back on the road again where they can use the energy of the road crowd. Game time temperatures at kick off are expected to be significantly more comfortable than the previous two Saturdays — 93 degrees and 91 degrees, respectively. I believe GSU is more than capable of winning this game close but turnovers and penalties will be the story of which team comes away with a victory in Waldo Stadium on Saturday evening.
Western Michigan battles Georgia State at 7:30 ET in Waldo Stadium. With hopes of rebounding from a disastrous loss in East Lansing, the Broncos are looking to secure a 2-1 record and their best start since 2016.