Georgia State and Army: Keys to the game

Panthers face Army in week one of the season, putting the team to the test. Photo by Harry Wyman | The Signal

With the playoffs potentially expanding, victories for groups of five schools against tough non-conference opponents are more crucial than ever. For Georgia State to even get close to a chance at playoff selection or a New Years Six bowl appearance, they will have to have the best season in the program’s history. 

In particular, the Panthers will have to play the best football in their short history, starting with a home opener with the Army Black Knights. Though we do not know what the future will hold, The Signal has some pretty strong predictions about this year. Firstly, the Panthers have numerous returning veterans. 

The Panthers are returning with the same team that finished 6-4 overall and 4-4 in the conference last season. The Panthers have nine returning starters on defense, including safety Antavious Lane, defensive end Hardrick Willis, linebacker Blake Carroll and cornerback Quavian White.

Georgia State led the Sun Belt Conference in sacks (35) and finished second in third-down defense and against the run. Georgia State also brought in talented transfers to bolster the defense. 

The most notable of these transfers is Wake Forest linebacker Shamar McCollum, a former three-star recruit from South Carolina. The experienced defense is invaluable against a loaded non-conference schedule and formidable conference foes. 

The Panthers’ starting quarterback Cornelious “Quad” Brown is also excited about the Panthers’ talent going into the season. 

The thing that excites me the most is the potential and talent that we have,” Brown said. “I feel like that talent, and that continuity is going to make us special.”

The Panthers also have the benefit of a loaded passing attack. In 2020, they were essentially a Big-12 team on a budget. The passing attack led by Brown guided the Panthers to average 33.3 points per game to victory in the LendingTree Bowl against Western Kentucky.

Georgia State is deep at wide receiver lead by All-Sun Belt Second Team receiver Sam Pinckney. The redshirt junior led the team with 47 catches for 815 yards and seven touchdowns during the 2020 campaign. 

The Panthers also added to their core with the former Central Florida receiver Ja’Cyais Credle. Finally, the most significant advantage that the Panthers have: the aforementioned Quad Brown.

Following the exit of former quarterback Dan Ellington, fans debated who would emerge to take his place. Since winning the job, Brown hasn’t looked back and was solid in the first season as signal-caller. 

Behind a veteran offensive line, the redshirt freshman threw 17 touchdowns and finished second in the conference, throwing 227 yards per game. 

After capping last season with an MVP performance in the LendingTree Bowl, the redshirt sophomore quarterback is ready to take the next step. However, for all of the advantages of the Panthers, Army has some incredible strengths. 

If there is one constant, it is the Army’s offense. The Black Knight offense grinds its opponents, holding the ball for 35 minutes even on non-scoring drives. 

Army can quickly grind the game to a halt and prevent the Panther offense from taking the field. Ben Moore of 247Sports would not be surprised if it is the Panthers’ shortest game of the season.

“I could see Army holding onto the ball on offense and making the game a slog for the Panthers,” Moore said. “Don’t be shocked if this is the shortest game that the [Panthers] play this season.” 

The Panthers’ shaky secondary might also turn into a massive advantage for the Army. While the Panthers had no issue getting to the quarterback, allowing big plays certainly plagued the team. The Army offense, while not the most lethal, can take advantage of big-play opportunities. 

One of the games where Georgia State gave up one of its biggest plays was its 59-52 shootout loss against Arkansas State. If the Black Knights can expose the secondary, it might be a long afternoon for the Panthers in their home opener. However, Army’s most significant advantage is their most prominent, their defense. 

Army’s defense was ranked number one in the nation regarding yards allowed, giving up 275 yards and 27 points per game. There might be several missed starters, but many of the top tacklers are back.

Army Linebacker Arik Smith will be a force on defense, and he led the team with 78 stops playing at middle linebacker. The secondary also returns many starters, and the Black Knights could indeed halt the Panthers’ high-powered offense.

Army, traditionally, is an opponent that prides itself in eating clock with long drives that stall the game and keep opponents off the field. While the Panthers’ defense will get to the quarterback, the Army defense will stave off a hot Panther offense.