Panthers dominate Utah State in bowl game to end their season

Photo by GSU Athletics

The Panthers capped off a rather disappointing season with a blowout victory, 45-22, over Utah State in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. Senior Darren Grainger accounted for five total touchdowns—three through the air and two on the ground—in his final game before declaring for the NFL Draft.


Following a breakout season on the ground, starting running back Marcus Carroll entered the transfer portal, promoting senior Freddie Brock to his first start as a Panther. Brock took full advantage of his bowl game debut, smashing the school’s single-game rushing record with 276 yards on 24 carries. Coach Shawn Elliott and offensive coordinator Trent McKnight exploited Utah State’s weak rush defense, scoring 31 unanswered points and a Potato Bowl record 386 yards rushing.


This rush-dominant approach was proved successful early in the season, getting the Panthers out to a 6-1 start. At the beginning of Coach Elliott’s tenure at GSU, he attributed a team motto, “Start Fast, Finish Strong,” which resonated heavily in the team’s early success.


The offense carried a lot of weight in the Panthers’ first three non-conference wins over Rhode Island, UConn, and Charlotte. The team scored 35+ points in their first three games, while the defense held its own, coached by their new defensive coordinator, Chad Staggs.


After a 3-0 start, Staggs faced up against his former team at Coastal Carolina. Staggs’ defense stifled the Chanticleers early on, allowing just 3 points in the first half. The Panthers came out on top, winning 30-17 and moved on to their first-ever 4-0 season start.


The streaking Panthers were handed their first loss of the season against the 2-2 Troy Trojins, losing 28-7 at Center Parc Stadium. Following the loss, the team regrouped with two more wins, dominating Marshall 42-14 and winning over Louisiana-Lafayette, 20-17.


But the Panthers’ success screeched to a halt after a humbling 44-27 loss to state rival Georgia Southern. Going into Statesboro with a better record, 6-1 to Southern’s 5-2, and a three-game win streak in the rivalry, the Panthers looked shell-shocked and outmatched in all three phases of the game.


Despite such a fast start, the team did not finish strong as Coach Elliott preached, losing their final five regular-season games. Following the State vs. Southern rivalry game, the Panthers suffered back-to-back blowout losses to James Madison and Appalachian State.


The Panthers then traveled west with hopes of showing LSU and Heisman award winner Jayden Daniels their best football. After one quarter, the offense was going stride for stride with Daniels’s offense, tied at 14-14. Shortly after, the LSU defense caught on to GSU’s run-heavy scheme and opened up even more of a passing attack of their own, putting up 21 unanswered points to hold a 35-14 lead at half. The spirit of the Panthers remained high, but they could not find a way back into the game as Daniels put on a Heisman-worthy 8 touchdowns and over 500 total yards in a 56-14 LSU victory.


In the Panthers’ final game of the regular season at Old Dominion, they suffered a devastating loss, blowing a 21-0 halftime lead over the Monarchs. With many key starters injured and a cold weather game, the fourth quarter was tough to watch as the team slowly crumbled away their final game of the regular season.


Although the regular season spiraled downhill, the Panthers’ 45-22 bowl victory in Boise was huge for the season’s conclusion and leaves optimistic possibilities for the future of Coach Elliott and his returning players for the 2023-2024 season.