In the leadup to Georgia State’s 20-9 win over Charlotte on September 18th, head coach Shawn Elliott made it very clear that his team needed a change.
“In order to do different things,” Elliott said, “you’ve got to have different people doing them.” GSU was 0-2 at this point and the team’s disappointing start was the headline story headed into its matchup against the 49ers.
Elliott found the personnel change he was looking for in redshirt junior quarterback Darren Grainger. Grainger, a transfer from Furman, had just 1,425 career passing yards on 192 completions going into Saturday’s game. He previously appeared in the late part of GSU’s two losses earlier in the season. In those games Grainger was 2-of-4 for 22 yards with an additional 58 on the ground.
Grainger was only announced as the starter minutes before kickoff by a tweet from Ben Moore. Moore’s tweet was confirmed as kickoff crawled even closer when Grainger was announced as the starter ahead of 2020 starter Cornelius Brown IV.
Grainger was 6-of-12 against Charlotte, and threw for 139 yards and two touchdowns. He impressed on the ground as well as he gained 50 yards on 17 attempts.
“We needed a spark,” Elliott said, “we made the decision [to start Grainger] on Sunday.”
Brown IV, a redshirt sophomore, played just one snap after Grainger’s helmet popped off in the first quarter.
The game started slowly, all four first quarter drives resulted in punts, but excitement was injected into the game near the back half of the third quarter.
GSU had an opportunity to open the scoring thanks to a Destin Coates 64-yard rush, but Coates was stopped and lost the ball on the Niners’ 3-yard line thanks to a Jon Alexander tackle. Shedrick Urserey recovered the fumble and Charlotte’s Elijah Spencer found the endzone after the team converted two fourth downs on the ensuing drive.
Down 7-0, the Panthers did not take long to strike back. Darren Grainger found Ja’Cyais Credle for 33 yards on the first play of the drive and then connected with Jamari Thrash for a 35-yard touchdown to bring the game even at 7-7.
“When you’ve got an open shot,” Grainger said, “just give [Credle and Thrash] a chance.”
That score was the first of Grainger’s FBS career and Thrash’s first of the season despite leading the team in receptions. Thrash finished the game with 62 yards on two receptions.
The next score did not come until midway through the third quarter. After a GSU false start, center Malik Sumter botched a snap that rolled into the Panthers’ end zone. Grainger recovered and managed to throw the ball away before getting sacked, but the play was ruled intentional grounding in the end zone thereby granting the 49ers a safety.
“They said my receiver was out of bounds,” Grainger said as he explained that there was no intended receiver on his pass, “but I don’t agree with that call.”
After stopping an attempted fourth down conversion GSU got the ball near the 50 and benefitted again from consecutive long completions. This time, Grainger found Thrash for 27 on one play and then hit Credle from 28 yards out to score. The PAT was blocked but the Panthers gained a lead for the first time this season and would carry that lead for the remainder of the game.
That was Credle’s second of two catches of the game and his first career touchdown.
Running back Jamyest Williams sealed the game with a 13-yard rushing touchdown to cap a nine minute drive. Charlotte received the following kickoff down 11 points with two timeouts and 1:38 left on the clock but they gained just five net yards, threw an interception on 4th and 20, and the Panthers walked off their own field victorious for the first time in exactly 10 months.
Tucker Gregg carried the ball more than any other Panthers player but did so in small chunks. He gained 76 yards on 22 carries. Destin Coates was the leading rusher thanks to his 64-yarder. He gained 83 yards despite having just four carries.
Charlotte was unable to find a consistent offensive attack all game and the box score is ample proof of such. No 49er gained more than 60 yards rushing or receiving. QB Chris Reynolds completed 13 of 28 pass attempts for 158 yards and gained an additional 25 on the ground.
“Our defense was relentless,” Elliott said postgame, “outstanding effort. I never felt like [Charlotte’s offense] had control of the game.”
Going into the game Charlotte was averaging 34.5 points per game. This nine-point performance marks their lowest score since a 2019 loss to No. 1 Clemson.
This victory is the Panthers’ first of the season and they are now 1-2. They play at Auburn on September 25th at 4 pm.
Inversely for the 49ers, it is their first loss of the season and they sit at 2-1. Their next matchup is their conference opener. They play at home against Middle Tennessee on September 24th at 6:30 pm.