Shocky top: What we learned from Georgia State’s shock victory

Christian Owens flexes sideline after the last touchdown for Georgia State during their first winning game versus the University of Tennessee at Neyland Stadium. Photo by Matt Siciliano-Salazar | The Signal

In case you’ve read this far and still don’t know, the Georgia State Panthers defeated the Tennessee Volunteers 38-30 at Neyland Stadium Saturday. The upset shocked the nation, stunned those in orange and white and brought the Georgia State Football program a thick stack of cash.

Here are some important things we learned from the Panthers’ week one performance.

Money talks

Ask around and you are likely to find a wide range of opinions on “pay-to-play” games. For those who are unfamiliar, we’ll keep it simple: Power Five conference teams, like Tennessee, will give Group of Five conference or lower-level teams, such as Georgia State, the chance to compete on the grandest stages in college football.

The lower-level sides are compensated for their time and given the chance to bring much-needed exposure to their programs. In return, the Power Five sides tend to tear their opponents to shreds (for example, Penn State’s 79-7 victory over the Idaho Vandals Saturday). 

But the Georgia State Panthers were not going to negotiate on these terms. In addition to their fairytale triumph, a source close to The Signal confirmed that Shawn Elliott’s men walked away with a $950,000 payment from the Tennessee Volunteers. Not too shabby for a team that just one season ago had found their rock bottom.

This year’s team is focused on getting back to its winning ways

Coming off of last year’s dismal 2-10 finish, head coach Shawn Elliott placed an emphasis on accountability and growth. Along with that, he assigned team captains to make sure the team stays on the same accord. For senior quarterback Dan Ellington, winning is the main focus for him as he finishes his last year.  

“I just want to get Georgia State back to its winning ways,” Ellington said. 

This victory should maximize the team’s confidence and ability to play at a high level. With this mindset going forward, it is up to the Panthers to decide their final fate come December.

The offense is the strength and is here to stay

One of the Panthers’ consistent strengths since Elliott’s arrival is their up-tempo, no-huddle offense. Even last season, in which the team finished 2-10, the offense was always able to score. Against the Volunteers, it was much of the same. 

The Panthers backfield combined to rush for 213 yards and Ellington finished 11-of-24 with 139 yards and two touchdowns through the air. The offense stayed balanced throughout, finishing with 352 total yards. The Volunteers defense often seemed a step behind, something new offensive coordinator Brad Glenn will surely take great pride in. 

With the Panthers always being able to put up points, they give themselves a great chance of being consistent winners in the future.

Elliott trusts Ellington

This is not too much of a surprise, but Ellington is the leader of the team and Elliott trusts him to get the job done. Speaking after the game, Elliott

Although the Panthers finished the game 1-2 on fourth down conversions, when the Panthers needed a first down, Ellington delivered. Another example of this is when Ellington fumbled in Volunteers territory which led to the Volunteers taking a 23-21 lead. On the next offensive possession, Elliott was aggressive in his play-calling, allowing Ellington the freedom to throw more. Decisions like these matter in big time games and it pays dividends (or wins) for the team.

The offensive line is young and can play

The Panthers rushed the football 53 times for 213 yards and were a consistent threat on the ground from the first quarter until the last. Although running backs Tra Barnett and Seth Paige were able to use their feet and get loose for touchdowns, the credit must go to the offensive line. 

They are led by senior Hunter Atkinson. If Saturday’s performance has anything to say about this season, the offensive line is going to be legit and perhaps one of the Sun Belt Conference’s best.

The defense has improved but still has not peaked

The main question coming into this season was the defense. Last season, the Panthers were among the Sun Belt’s worst in total defense and yards allowed. We did not know if the Panthers would improve enough or in time to play the Volunteers. 

The defense held the Volunteers to 93 yards rushing but gave up 311 yards through the air. If not for a bust in coverage early in the fourth quarter and other defensive mistakes, that number could have been lower. 

As a unit, the defense combined for four sacks and six tackles for loss. Getting to the quarterback and disrupting the offense is one of the goals the Panthers want to achieve at a high level this season.

Senior linebacker Ed Curney, the captain of the defense, was inspirational. As the defense gets more snaps, you can expect the Panthers to have a top defense within the Sun Belt.

“We had all summer to prepare for this game,” Curney said. “I think we did a great job.” 

Are the Panthers Sun Belt contenders?

Look, it has to be said that this was simply one game. But this win shows that the Panthers are capable of playing for a Sun Belt title. If this group of guys can ride their momentum, there is no reason why they cannot be a competitive team. 

Appalachian State, Arkansas State and Georgia Southern will be key games that they need to win in order to achieve this goal. It may be a high expectation but after their performance Saturday, it is certainly possible. There is a brand new vibe around the team, one that could warrant some silverware.