Start time: 12:00 p.m. EST, Sept. 4
Location: Center Parc Stadium, Atlanta, GA
Records: Army (0-0), GSU (0-0)
Spread: GSU -2.0, O/U 49
There are a lot of questions surrounding the 2021 season for the Georgia State Panthers. Can HC Shawn Elliott continue the program’s steady improvement? Can Quad Brown continue his own improvement? Can the secondary show some much needed growth despite a difficult schedule?
Those questions can only be answered once the season is underway, a landmark now just days away.
The Panthers face Army for only the second time in program history. The Black Knights visited GSU in Atlanta in October 2019 and lost 28-21.
Who is Army?
Army plays like your stereotypical service academy, probably because they basically invented the style. They rushed the ball for nearly 4,000 yards last season and passed for just over 500. For each air attempt, the Black Knights ran the ball nearly 10 times. Opponents were held to just 14.83 points per game and scored only 21 offensive touchdowns in 2020.
Last season Army went 9-3. They made the Liberty Bowl, but lost in the postseason for the first time since 1996.
Since HC Jeff Monken took over in 2014, the program has been what can only be described as hit-or-miss. In his first two seasons the Black Knights went 6-18 but then won 29 of 39 in years three through five. 2019 was an off year (5-8), but they returned to form in 2020.
As of the Wednesday before game day, there is no named starting QB. Monken has named junior Thyier Tyler and senior Christian Anderson as the top candidates; both will likely see playing time on Saturday. While at first glance a notable quarterback controversy, Tyler and Anderson shared snaps in 2020.
Tyler was the Black Knights leading rusher last season. He gained 630 yards on 139 attempts. He only threw the ball four times, however, as Anderson did the arm work. His 47 throws for 215 yards may seem meek, but they account for about 61% of Army’s pass attempts.
Jakobi Buchanan was the primary fullback in Army’s flexbone last season. He rushed for 474 yards on 111 touches and was the leading non-QB rusher.
Alongside Buchanan are Tyrell Robinson and Sandon McCoy. Robinson rushed for 431 yards on 60 touches, nearly as many yards on about half as many carries as Buchanan. Robinson’s 117 receiving yards were a team high. McCoy saw the ball 86 times but recorded just 268 yards. This is due to a majority of his touches coming on the goal line or very short yardage situations. He led the team with 10 total touchdowns.
Equally as important as the run game to the Army football brand is defensive superiority. As mentioned, the Black Knights allowed a 14.83 points per game in 2020, second-best in the FBS.
Co-leading tackler Jon Rhattigan is no longer among the linebackers, but Arik Smith remains on the second level. Smith made 78 tackles last season, nine for losses, and collected 3.5 sacks. His 3.5 was a team-high, but that is not to say Army wasn’t hitting opposing quarterbacks. Instead the pass rushing love was shared. 14 players recorded either a sack or QB hit.
Games were decided by the opponent’s passing competency. Army allowed 190 or more air yards four times in 2020, all three of their losses were among those games.
How does GSU win?
There are two axioms to victory over Army:
Pass the ball
Sorry Destin Coates, but your quest to surpass Tra Barnett as the school’s all-time leading rusher begins next week.
Luckily, GSU has the offensive infrastructure to play air-centric ball. QB Cornelius Brown IV is sixth in all-time passing yards as a Panther and quickly climbing as a redshirt sophomore. Receivers Sam Pinckney and Cornelius McCoy and tight end Roger Carter crack the top six for Panther receiving touchdowns. Pinckney is fourth and is only behind players in the record books that are now in the NFL.
Stop the run
The GSU 2020 rush defense was best in school history and the Panthers will need to replicate that performance in week one if they want to beat Army. GSU allowed just 3.9 yards per carry, their lowest average ever.
Ensuring Army does not dominate on the ground is, of course, easier said than done. In 2020 the Black Knights were held to under 150 rushing yards once. Navy, who plays a very similar if not identical style of smashmouth football, kept Army to just 134 yards in a 15-0 loss for the Midshipmen.
The Magic Numbers
Last season, Army lost every game in which they ran for under 275 yards and opponents passed for over 175. In fact, the Black Knights are 1-7 since 2018 under those conditions.
Interestingly, this means that the Army run game doesn’t need to be halted nor does the Panthers’ aerial attack need to be flawless. GSU just needs to prevent a spectacular rushing performance and put on a strong— but not necessarily perfect— passing game.
While far from actuality, it appears as though GSU is the perfect antithesis to the service academy style of football. The Panthers are stout on the ground and can go over top of the terrifying Black Knight front seven. You need to plan specifically for Army, which is not good long term as it distracts from building the team familiarity and comfortability in HC Shawn Elliott and OC Brad Glenn’s offensive scheme. But if the Panthers play to their opponents’ weaknesses, they have a winnable game at hand.
Score: Georgia State 28-24 Army