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By Jess Nicholas, TideFans.com Editor-In-Chief
Oct. 2, 2013
The Georgia State Panthers are a transitional Division-IA team – which is currently 0-3 against Division-IAA competition.
It’s always tough to evaluate games like these against overmatched opponents. There is nothing about Georgia State to suggest the Panthers can be competitive with Alabama, although a quick glance at the school’s official website shows the Panthers are treating this game like it was the Super Bowl.
The Panthers have a surprisingly strong coaching staff. Former Indiana State head coach Trent Miles heads the program, having taken over for the retired Bill Curry, and the assistant coaching staff includes names like former Boston College head coach Jeff Jagodzinski (offensive coordinator) and former Alabama strength coach Ben Pollard (same position). But this is a school that didn’t even field a program until the last decade and, quite frankly, is about a decade ahead of schedule in terms of moving up to the Football Bowl Subdivision.
Alabama’s primary concern will be to avoid injuries, and secondary to that, get playing time for players who frequently dress but never get to see the field. It’s entirely possible that Alabama will play more players this Saturday than it did at A-Day in the spring.
Both teams run a pro-style attack. The Panthers utilize a traditional I-formation with a fullback, while Alabama opts for an Ace-derived, multiple look. As the Panthers are currently considered a “transitional” team by the NCAA, they are in a bit of statistical limbo. The Panthers are not ranked against other teams from either their prior division or the one to which they are moving. But the following is known: The team’s quarterbacks are completing less than half of their passes, and Panther running backs are averaging 3.3 yards per carry. It’s ugly. Alabama, meanwhile, ranks 72nd in passing offense, 70th in rushing offense, 84th in total offense and 42nd in scoring offense. All numbers are expected to improve as a result of this game.
Ronnie Bell will get the start for the Panthers. It’s debatable whether to call him a dual-threat, or simply note that he is occasionally successful when running for his life. Bell has gained positive yardage (36 yards on 24 carries, a 1.5 average) even with sack yardage figured in, which are good numbers in a pro-style attack. But his passing numbers are abysmal: 58-for-127 (45.7%), 773 yards, 5 touchdowns, 3 interceptions. Ben McLane (10-for-18, 55.6%, 185 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT) was expected to be the starter coming out of spring before Bell took over, so maybe this is the game that flips the depth chart. Alabama counters with A.J. McCarron (75-for-110, 68.2%, 882 yards, 6 TD, 3 INT), but McCarron’s workload figures to be light. It would be a surprise to see him play beyond the first half, particularly since Alabama has been substituting Blake Sims earlier than in past seasons. Sims has thrown just 2 passes so far in 2013, so look for him to get plenty of work Saturday. Also expect to see Alec Morris make his collegiate debut. No contest here. Advantage: Alabama
Sean Jeppesen isn’t a huge running threat at fullback (3 carries for 8 yards, a 2.7 avg.) for Georgia State, but he is a decent blocker. However, he’s also smaller than T.J. Yeldon. He’ll be clearing the way for, primarily, Travis Evans, who is the lone Georgia State running back to put up decent numbers (42 carries, 188 yards, 4.5 avg., 1 TD). Evans, a senior, is between Kenyan Drake and Dee Hart in size. Gerald Howse (14 carries, 29 yards, 2.1 avg., 0 TD) and Jonathan Jean-Bart (13 carries, 46 yards, 3.5 avg., 0 TD) will provide depth. Howse has good size, but no speed, while Jean-Bart is a smaller back. Evans’ 1 touchdown is the only touchdown scored on the ground by the Panthers this year. Alabama will counter with T.J. Yeldon and Kenyan Drake, at least until the game gets out of hand. Then it will be the Altee Tenpenny and Derrick Henry show. Jalston Fowler figures to see some work as well, and Dee Hart is also available, although he’s been used solely on special teams the last three games. Evans would be a backup at an SEC bottom-feeder, while the rest of the Panthers simply aren’t D-1 material. Advantage: Alabama
Oddly enough, Alabama will have to pay attention here. The Panthers have a solid receiving unit that is easily the strength of the team as a whole. Albert Wilson is built not unlike former LSU star Josh Reed (5’11”, 200 pounds) and statistically, he’s putting up all-star numbers: 22 catches, 457 yards, 20.8 avg., 4 TD. Tall freshman Robert Davis (17 catches, 241 yards, 14.2 avg., 1 TD) makes a nice second option, while another 6’4” receiver, Danny Williams (7 catches, 101 yards, 14.4 avg., 0 TD) adds experience. Kelton Hill (10 catches, 83 yards, 8.3 avg., 2 TD) is reliable in the slot, but not particularly explosive. The Panthers haven’t found a way to turn tight end Keith Rucker (4 catches, 46 yards, 11.5 avg., 0 TD) into much of a weapon in this offense yet, and he’s the only tight end with a catch. Backup Bill Teknipp is out for this game, so Drew Pearson figures to move up. He’s not a threat. Rucker, a freshman, has a bright future, but not necessarily a bright present. Alabama counters with its group of Amari Cooper, Kevin Norwood, DeAndrew White, Christion Jones and Kenny Bell. While Cooper has been strangely quiet to open the season, White and Jones have emerged as playmakers to go with the steady Norwood and the always-dangerous Bell. Alabama will also use Chris Black and Raheem Falkins in this game, along with walk-on Parker Barrineau and perhaps Ty Reed as well. Alabama’s tight ends need to bounce back from a rough outing against Ole Miss. Brian Vogler was a liability in the game, and O.J. Howard was shut out of the passing game. Both will play along with Harrison Jones, Malcolm Faciane and Brandon Greene, while Jalston Fowler starts at H-back. Redshirt freshman Kurt Freitag might make his debut as well. This category is actually fairly close due to Alabama’s struggles and the presence of Albert Wilson for Georgia State, but in the end, Alabama’s superior depth and significant advantage at tight end make the difference. Advantage: Alabama
Alabama’s line hasn’t been great shakes in 2013, but Georgia State is terrible. Seniors (and starters) Michael Davis and Harris Clottey left the team after the second game, and it just went downhill from there. Ulrick John will start at left tackle, while A.J. Kaplan starts at right tackle. Tim Wynn is the left guard. With Davis gone at center and Clottey gone at right guard, Cade Yates and Brandon Pertile are now filling those positions. Yates is badly undersized for a Division-IA lineman. Depth has also been affected, as reserve lineman Jah-Mai Davidson has been out with concussion-related issues. If he’s available Saturday, he might see some time at tackle. There is no depth anywhere. For Alabama, Chad Lindsay will get his first start at center, replacing the injured Ryan Kelly. Arie Kouandjio and Anthony Steen will start at guard, with Cyrus Kouandjio and Austin Shepherd starting at tackle. Kellen Williams also figures to play a lot at center so Alabama can develop depth there with Kelly out. Isaac Luatua and Alphonse Taylor will be the reserve guards, while Leon Brown figures to back up both tackle positions. Alabama fans should probably acquaint themselves with the names Harold Nicholson and Brandon Moore, walk-ons who could see action in this game. Nicholson becomes the second reserve tackle with Kellen Williams going to center, while Moore is in the depth chart at center and guard. Alabama’s tackles have struggled in 2013, but it’s hard to imagine them struggling in this one. It would be a bad sign if it happens. Advantage: Alabama
Georgia State operates from a 3-4 base set, while Alabama’s 3-4 over/under scheme is well-documented. Georgia State has played just one game against FBS competition in 2013, and in it, West Virginia racked up 41 points. The offense has been the bigger problem for the Panthers, but the defense (especially the linebackers and secondary) is still thin and undersized. Alabama’s defense, meanwhile, is dominating, huge and deep. The Tide holds respectable rankings in all major categories save raw pass defense (65th), but when Johnny Manziel is removed from consideration, Alabama goes from solid to dominating.
The Panthers’ size up front actually isn’t that bad. Nosetackle Terrance Woodward goes 6’4”, 305 pounds and has been fairly effective in clogging up the middle. The problem has been a lack of game-changing plays. The closest thing the Panthers have to a difference-maker is end Theo Agnew, who has good size (6’4”, 280) and has 1.5 tackles for losses and 2 QB hurries on the year. Freshman Shawayne Lawrence, himself a 270-pounder, gets the call at the other end position. Kentucky transfer Nermin Delic was expected to provide an instant boost, but he has yet to perform to expectations. Jalen Lawrence will back up Woodward, but Lawrence is smaller than the lineman Alabama is accustomed to seeing. Tevin Jones, Melvin King and George Rogers add depth. Only Rogers has decent size. Alabama counters with Brandon Ivory in the middle flanked by Ed Stinson at one end and either Jeoffrey Pagan or A’Shawn Robinson at the other. These four, plus freshman reserve Jonathan Allen, had a strong performance against Ole Miss and given Georgia State’s problems on offensive line, should have another dominating performance Saturday. Darren Lake will back up Ivory in the middle, while LaMichael Fanning provides depth outside. Look for Korren Kirven to get his first work at nosetackle, while veteran Anthony Orr could get his first game action at end. Wilson Love could also see his first playing time. Georgia State isn’t terrible up front, but Alabama’s playmaking ability is far better. Advantage: Alabama
Georgia State continues to fiddle with its starting lineup, and there’s no telling which setup Alabama will see. The only semi-guarantee is that Allen McKay will start somewhere. McKay has been lining up at the position Alabama uses as a Jack linebacker, although the Panthers are more traditional in their alignment. Joseph Peterson is a likely starter at middle linebacker, while either Jarrell Robinson or Robert Ferguson will start on the weakside. Tarris Batiste will start at the strongside position. Robinson is the team’s sack leader with 2 on the year. It remains to be seen whether Kight Dallas will play a part in this game. Dallas, arguably the gem of the Panthers’ most recent recruiting class, started the West Virginia game in Peterson’s spot but hasn’t played otherwise. Given that Georgia State got him to flip from South Carolina in February speaks to his talent level. Spencer Haywood, Jameel Spencer and Mackendy Cheridor provide depth. The biggest problem here is size. Ferguson and Dallas both clock in at 230 pounds, but none of the other starters tops 220. Cheridor, who also plays defensive end, barely does, and the same goes for DE/OLB John Kelly. Alabama counters with C.J. Mosley and Trey DePriest in the middle, flanked by some combination of Xzavier Dickson, Denzel Devall and Adrian Hubbard at the outside linebacker spots. Expect to see Tana Patrick, Reuben Foster and Reggie Ragland at inside linebacker in this game, with Ryan Anderson, Tim Williams and Dillon Lee contributing at outside linebacker. Walk-on Josh Dickerson could also get in the game at inside linebacker. Georgia State has some productive players, namely Batiste and Robinson, but Alabama has far more of them, as well as huge advantages in size, depth and raw ability. Advantage: Alabama
Georgia State had a numbers crunch in the preseason severe enough that coaches considered moving some players over from offense. In the end, the Panthers stuck with undersized seniors Demarius Matthews and Brent McClendon at the corners. The situation at safety is a mess. Arington Jordan and Kail Singleton were the starters heading out of fall camp, but neither has been credited with any kind of pass-defense statistic and the jobs are essentially open now. Rashad Stewart will probably start this game after serving as a nickel safety initially, while the other spot figures to go to either Singleton or redshirt freshman LaDarion Young. Jamaal May provides depth at safety, while C.J. Scott will backup the corner spots, although Mattews and McClendon get virtually all of the snaps there. Alabama counters with Vinnie Sunseri and Ha’Sean Clinton-Dix at safety, with Deion Belue and sudden freshman sensation Eddie Jackson at the corners. Jarrick Williams, Geno Smith and Landon Collins will provide depth at safety, while Bradley Sylve, Cyrus Jones, Maurice Smith and John Fulton are also in the mix at corner. If 28-year-old freshman safety Jai Miller is going to play in 2013, it will be in this game, or not at all. Jabriel Washington will likely get some work late at corner as well. Consistency hasn’t been Alabama’s strong suit in the secondary this year, but the rise of Jackson at cornerback appears to have settled things down considerably. Advantage: Alabama
Alabama’s Cody Mandell is one of the top punters in the nation, possessing an all-around skill set that makes the punting game an automatic edge to the Crimson Tide. Placekicker Cade Foster had a career day against Ole Miss, and if he continues to display the consistency he’s shown so far in 2013, there will be few teams that can compare to Alabama’s all-around excellence. The Tide is already among the nation’s best in returns and kick coverage. Georgia State’s situation is a bit less polished. Will Lutz might be the kicker, or punter Matt Hubbard could end up pulling double duty. Lutz has questionable range as is, and his accuracy is just average. As a punter, Hubbard carries a 41.1-yard average, which is more than enough to get the job done. The do-everything Albert Wilson can be a weapon on kickoff returns – and he figures to get plenty of opportunities Saturday – but the Panthers have struggled blocking on punt returns. Advantage: Alabama
Alabama leads in all eight categories and carries an overwhelming advantage in OL-DL matchups. This game will not be close.
Georgia State is coming off an overtime loss to Jacksonville State, and also lost earlier in the year to Samford and Chattanooga. If anything, the 41-7 loss to West Virginia might have been the best performance of the year simply due to the fact the margin of loss was only 34 points.
Georgia State is in the middle of strong recruiting territory, and the Panthers should get better quickly. The fact Trent Miles was able to pull someone like Kight Dallas away from South Carolina speaks well of this staff’s recruiting ability. But Saturday will be about the present, not the future.
Only Alabama can stop Alabama Saturday. Ideally, Alabama will put the pedal down early and build a large lead by the middle of the second quarter, then turn the game into a glorified JV scrimmage the rest of the way in and rest the team’s starters. However, on several occasions in recent seasons, Alabama has taken these games for granted and not executed well enough to build a large lead. Alabama’s offensive and defensive systems demand focused execution in order to work at optimum efficiency.
If this game goes as it should, Blake Sims will be in the game by halftime and not because A.J. McCarron is hurt. Alabama is capable of dropping an insane number of points on Georgia State, but Nick Saban typically opts to decelerate in games against overmatched opponents. The success or failure of this game will largely be determined by the postgame injury sheet.
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