Location: Georgia State Stadium, Atlanta, GA
THE KICKOFF: Thursday, Aug. 30, 7 p.m.
RADIO: Georgia State Radio Network, including WOAK-AM 1380 and WRAS 88.5 FM. Free audio stream on GeorgiaStateSports.com and GSU mobile app.
Betting Line: Georgia State +1, Over/Under 43
We made it y’all! After a long summer filled with speculation, recruiting woes, and camp battles it’s finally brought us to the end of August giving us the freedom to say three words. FOOTBALL IS BACK! It doesn’t matter what you did last year or what your record was, it’s a new season and every team is looking to make their mark on the college football world.
For those of you wondering who I am, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Rashard Leonard and I’m happy to be joining Underdog Dynasty this season as a contributor for the Georgia State Panthers. Thanks again to Cyrus Smith for the opportunity and I look forward to seeing where this season takes us.
This game features two young programs looking to take the next step. Kennesaw State comes into the game riding high off of a very successful 2017 campaign. The Owls were able to capture their first Big South Conference title in only their third season of existence and were able to reach the Quarterfinals of the FCS Playoffs before losing to Sam Houston State. 18 Starters from that team have returned for this season along with their head coach Brian Bohannon, who’s lead this team since it’s inception. KSU is going to make a lot of noise in the FCS this season and has a solid chance to pull off the upset on Thursday.
Georgia State also enters this season coming off of the best campaign in their eight-year history. The 2017 campaign saw the Panthers achieve a 7-5 record culminating with a win against Western Kentucky in the Cure Bowl. They return only 12 starters from last season and are looking for transfers and freshmen to fill some holes and make a big impact this season. This opener is a huge game for the GSU program in many ways. Outside of Homecoming and the State vs. Southern game, the season opener is usually the most attended game for Georgia State. Classes have just started, freshmen have moved in on campus, and school spirit is at it’s highest. The Panthers need to win this opener to give fans a reason to continue attending games at Turner Field.
A loss to Kennesaw State would be extremely damaging to their reputation in Georgia and would diminish any confidence that fans have in the team after such a successful season. This game is a must-win for the Panthers if they wish to shed their label as a middling Sun Belt team, and reach their full potential as a G5 team smack dab in the middle of one of the most fertile recruiting grounds in the country: Metro Atlanta.
Keys to the game for the Owls
Control the clock and limit possessions for the Panthers
In order to win this game the Owls need their option offense to be on point. Running the option isn’t just a playbook, it’s a mindset. The Owls will be on the attack from the first snap, they’ll lean heavily on their veteran QB and preseason FCS All-American Chandler Burks to lead the offense. Kennesaw needs to use the running game to control the clock and limit possessions for the Panther offense.
No matter who wins the starting job for GSU at QB, someone will be trying to make their mark to replace Conner Manning and solidify themselves as the starter. A new starter at QB should have KSU’s Bryson Armstrong(FCS Jerry Rice Freshman of the Year Winner) excited to play defense. If KSU can force turnovers on a new Panther offense looking to find it’s footing then they have a good chance at the upset.
Keys to the Game for the Panthers
Stop Chandler Burks
The Panthers are familiar with defending the option since it’s the main offensive style for Georgia Southern. However, the Owls option attack is based in the flexbone formation while the Eagles have primarily ran a spread option for the past few years. If the Panthers want to stop the option then they have to get to Chandler Burks early and often. Burks is the trigger man for this offense and operates it beautifully, if he’s on his game then the offense will score. GSU’s defense cannot allow Burks to get comfortable or in a rhythm. He needs to be hit on every play (within the rules) to get him off balance.
The Panthers have to come out playing disciplined football. They can’t afford to be sloppy and make mistakes. In last year’s season opener (and the first game played in Georgia State Stadium) the Panthers lost to Tennessee State University because they played sloppy. The team had four turnovers (three fumbles, one INT) and couldn’t get consistent production on offense as they lost 17-10. Mistakes like that need to be limited against KSU. If the Panthers want to win this game, a focused, self-driven, and above all disciplined team must show up against the Owls. Coach Elliot’s mantra to the newcomers has been #BeTheChange. On Thursday we’ll see if those words were taken to heart.
I expect this game to be a lively contest with back-and-forth scoring up until halftime. By the second half I expect the difference in talent between the two teams will start to show. GSU will pull away in the fourth quarter and start their season off with a victory.
Final Score: KSU 21, GSU 31