Date/time: Thursday, Sept. 21, 7:30 p.m. EST
Location: Brooks Stadium, Conway, South Carolina
2023 record: GSU 3-0, CCU 2-1
Previous meetings: The all-time series is tied 3-3; most recently, CCU beat GSU 41-24 in 2022
With James Madison again ineligible to play in the Sun Belt Conference Championship, the race to be the Eastern Division representative shows early signs of being tight, which makes this Week Four game unusually important.
A Quick Look at Coastal Carolina
Coastal Carolina started the year off with a tough game at UCLA, which it lost, but handled business against Jacksonville State and Duquesne with relative ease. Now, for the first time this season, the Chanticleers get a taste of roughly equal opposition.
Despite worries about how the offense would handle the departure of former AP Coach of the Year Jamey Chadwell, the first-year combination of head coach Tim Beck and offensive coordinator Travis Trickett has shown they have the creativity that CCU fans have grown to love.
It all starts with the only player to win three Sun Belt Player of the Year awards, quarterback Grayson McCall. He is fourth in the conference for both passing yards and completion percentage but is putting up career-worst numbers for rushing.
For a second year in a row, McCall leans on long-time partner Jared Brown and former Panther Sam Pinckney in the passing game. They are the only two Chanticleers with more than six catches this season.
The offense is still searching for a clear-cut top rusher; last season’s leading runners CJ Beasley and Reese White have combined for 88 ground yards this season. Braydon Bennett had a good game against Duquesne last week but was afforded only seven carries.
Defensively, the team is scarily good at forcing turnovers. The Chants made three interceptions against UCLA and Duquesne each and recovered two fumbles this season as well.
There’s something to be desired in the pass rush, though. The roster is slim in this regard – of last season’s top-five sack getters only Ja’Quon Griffin and Jahmar Brown still play for Coastal and have a single sack between the two – but CCU dropped from fifth-most sacks forced in 2022 to second-fewest in the Sun Belt.
A Quick Look at Georgia State
The Panthers have exceeded most expectations already. They’re 3-0 for the first time ever, have a top-two player in passing, rushing, and receiving, and despite an uneasy game against Rhode Island look to be one of the most improved teams from 2022.
Quarterback Darren Grainger has transformed from a wily but exciting dual threat to one of the best-looking playcallers in the conference. After finishing with a sub-60 completion percentage in his first two seasons, he’s completed 73% this season. He’s also on pace to surpass his best passing season by almost 800 yards and best rushing season by 130.
Grainger’s incredible passing wouldn’t be possible without running back Marcus Carroll, joint-fourth in the country for rushing yards, drawing defenses in setting up the play action, or the stable of capable GSU pass catchers.
Robert Lewis set a program record for receiving yards last week, but it is not just him. Ja’Cyais Credle has been reliable for years and Jacari Carter has proved himself a great third option.
Despite the multi-dimensionality and dominance of the offense, the Panthers still need to iron out one major hitch in the defense.
They force turnovers and get to the quarterback at a better-than-average rate, but the Panthers have the joint-worst third-down defense in the Sun Belt.
Last week’s game against Charlotte was better – the 49ers were 3-for-14 on third downs – but that was against one of the worst third-down offenses in the country.
GSU has been lucky to not face an opponent that can make it pay for its horrid 50% conversion rate allowed on third downs.
Interestingly, in the six games these teams have played, the away team has always won. But it is hard to say the Panthers go on the road and win this one.
The offenses both have the firepower, but the edge defensively falls to Coastal. Getting just one more stop than the opponent could prove decisive in this game which could see both teams touch 35 points.