Blue White Illustrated publisher Phil Grosz breaks down the key matchups between the Nittany Lions and Panthers for Saturday night at Beaver Stadium.
WHEN PENN STATE HAS THE BALL
PENN STATE RUNNING GAME vs. GEORGIA STATE RUN DEFENSE
PENN STATE RUNNING GAME 197.5 YPG, 6.8 YPC
GEORGIA STATE RUN DEFENSE 238.0 YPG, 5.7 YPC
THE LOWDOWN Even though Penn State was only able to run for 148 yards on 24 carries against Pitt, averaging 6.2 yards per carry, the Nittany Lions still will enter this Saturday’s game against Georgia State with the sixth-best rushing attack in the Big Ten at 197.5 yards per game, but the second best yards per carry average at 6.8. Saquon Barkley is the third leading rusher in the Big Ten averaging 130 ypg and his 9.3 ypc average is second best in the Big Ten behind Ty Johnson from Maryland who is averaging an astounding 15.1 ypc. Penn State’s second-leading rusher, Trace McSorley, has rushed for 113 yards on 20 carries and also has an impressive 5.7 ypc average. Tommy Stevens, Miles Sanders and Andre Robinson have combined for 26 rushing yards on eight carries averaging just 3.25 ypc.
Penn State against Georgia State on Saturday should in all likelihood have its best rushing game during its non-conference schedule. At this point, the Panthers’ only game of the 2017 season was back on August 31 against an unranked FCS team, Tennessee State. In that game, Tennessee State rushed for 238 yards and averaged 5.7 YPC with two rushing TDs. The Panthers lost that game to Tennessee State, 17-10. The Panthers’ leading tackler is JUCO FS transfer DeAndre Applin (6-1, 210) who totaled nine tackles against Tennessee State with six solo tackles and three assists. Senior ILB Trey Payne (6-0, 225) was tied with senior SS Bryan Williams (6-3, 212) as Georgia State’s second leading tackler. Both Payne and Williams had eight total tackles with three solo tackles and five assists. Payne recorded one of Georgia State’s four tackles for loss against Tennessee State for three yards. Junior ILB Chase Middleton (6-2, 235) was Georgia State’s fourth leading tackler with seven total tackles.
In the game against Tennessee State, the Panthers’ totaled four tackles for loss. Nose tackle Julien Laurent (6-4, 310) led the team with two TFL. Tennessee State had a lot of success running the football both inside and outside the tackle box, so both Barkley and McSorley should have a great deal of success running the football against the Panthers with the zone read option.
KEY MATCHUP Penn State LT Ryan Bates and RT Chasz Wright vs. Georgia State’s DEs senior Mackendy Cheridor (6-5, 275) and junior Marterious Allen (6-2, 270) plus Penn State C Connor McGovern vs. Georgia State senior NT Julien Laurent (6-4, 310). Expect Penn State to total over 250 yards rushing.
EDGE: PENN STATE
PENN STATE PASSING GAME vs. GEORGIA STATE PASS DEFENSE
PENN STATE PASSING GAME 243.0 YPG, 13.5 YPC
GEORGIA STATE PASS DEFENSE 145 YPG, 12.1 YPC
THE LOWDOWN Penn State will enter its game against Georgia State with the sixth best pass offense in the Big Ten averaging 243 YPG with a 13.5 yards per completion average. Trace McSorley has completed 33 of 53 passes for 444 yards with five TD passes and just two interceptions in the first two games of the season against Akron and Pitt. His 13.45 yards per completion average is second best in the Big Ten. The Nittany Lions’ leading receiver is TE Mike Gesicki. Gesicki has ten catches for 97 yards (9.7 YPC) with four TD receptions. His longest catch is 35 yards. Saquon Barkley is the Nittany Lions’ second leading receiver with seven catches for 99 yards (14.1 YPC) with one TD reception. DaeSean Hamilton is next with six catches for 119 yards and a team leading 19.8 YPC average. Juwan Johnson has five catches for 88 yards with a 17.6 YPC average.
Georgia State limited Tennessee State to 145 passing yards and a 12.1 YPC average completing just 12 of 25 passes. The Panthers did not post an interception against Tennessee State. Georgia State had just one sack against Tennessee State that was recorded by senior ILB Trey Payne for three yards. Payne and junior OLB Michael Shaw (6-4, 230) each recorded one QB hurry. The Panthers’ struggled in 2016 both against the rush and the pass. The Panthers in 2016 ranked 95th in rushing defense allowing 206.8 YPG, but ranked eighth in pass defense allowing 173.9 ypg, but teams averaged under 20 pass attempts per game because of the Panthers’ struggles defensing the run.
KEY MATCHUP Penn State X-WR Juwan Johnson vs. Georgia State junior CB Jerome Smith (5-10, 180) and Penn State TE Mike Gesicki vs. Georgia State’s top DB senior SS Brandon Williams (6-3, 212).
EDGE: PENN STATE
WHEN GEORGIA STATE HAS THE BALL
GEORGIA STATE RUNNING GAME vs. PENN STATE RUN DEFENSE
GEORGIA STATE RUNNING GAME 49.0 YPG, 1.7 YPC
PENN STATE RUN DEFENSE 114.0 YPG, 2.9 YPC
THE LOWDOWN Georgia State’s rushing offense was one of the worst in FBS college football in 2016. The Panthers’ rushing offense ranked 126th at the FBS level averaging just 87.7 ypg and, believe it or not, things got worse for the Panthers’ running game in its opener against Tennessee State. Georgia State rushed for just 49 yards and averaged just 1.7 ypc. Junior RB Taz Bateman (5-8, 190) was the Panther’s leading rusher with 31 yards on 11 carries (2.8 ypc). So. QB Aaron Winchester (6-2, 190) was Georgia State’s second leading rusher with 12 yards on eight carries (1.5 ypc). Senior QB Conner Manning (6-1, 205) picked up six yards on four carries (1.5 ypc). After its game, Georgia State ranks 130th at the FBS college level in rushing offense.
Penn State goes into its game against Georgia State after a poor showing against Pitt allowing 155 rushing yards with a 3.4 ypc average with one rushing TD. That places Penn State 10th in the Big Ten allowing 114.0 ypg, but having an impressive 2.9 ypc average, fifth best in the Big Ten. Through two games against Akron and Pitt, Marcus Allen is the Nittany Lions’ leading tackler with 15 total tackles, nine solo tackles, six assists with 1.5 TFL for five yards and a two point safety against Pitt. Jason Cabinda is the Nittany Lions’ second leading tackler with 11 total tackles. Koa Farmer is next with 10 total tackles, two TFL for five yards and one sack for four yards. In the two games against Akron and Pitt, Penn State has amassed 23 TFL for 84 yards.
KEY MATCHUP Penn State DE Shareef Miller vs. Georgia State So. LT Hunter Atkinson (6-4, 285) and Penn State DT Tyrell Chavis vs. Georgia State senior RG Alex Stoehr (6-2, 299) and junior C Gabe Mobley (6-2, 280). Miller and Chavis led the Penn State defense with 3.0 TFL a piece for 19 and seven yards, respectively.
EDGE: PENN STATE
GEORGIA STATE PASSING GAME vs. PENN STATE PASS DEFENSE
GEORGIA STATE PASSING 224.0 YPG, 12.4 YPC
PENN STATE PASS DEFENSE 136.5 YPG, 7.2 YPC
THE LOWDOWN Last season, Georgia State ranked 52nd in passing at the FBS level of college football totaling 246.3 ypg. Manning led the Sun Belt Conference in passing totaling 268.4 ypg and tied for second in the league with 16 TD passes. Manning missed three games last season with an undisclosed injury. In the opener against Tennessee State Manning completed 14 of 17 passes for 159 yards. Back-up QB Aaron Winchester (6-2, 190) was four-of-six for 65 yards with one interception. The Panthers’ leading receiver was Bateman with six catches for 74 yards (12.3 ypc) with one TD catch. Sophomore WR Penny Hart (5-8, 190) had five catches for 36 yards (7.2 ypc) and TE Ari Werts (6-4, 224) had two catches for 62 yards (31.0 ypc). Also senior WR Todd Boyd (5-11, 185) had two catches for 36 yards (18.0 ypc).
Penn State enters its game with the Panthers ranked second in the Big Ten in pass defense allowing 136.5 ypg and 7.2 ypc. The Nittany Lions also rank sixth in the Big Ten in pass defense efficiency with a pass efficiency rating of 151.4. In Penn State’s opening two games against Pitt and Akron the Nittany Loins totaled eight sacks for 50 yards. DE Shareef Miller leads Penn State with two sacks for 15 yards both coming last Saturday against Pitt. Koa Farmer, Robert Windsor, Ryan Buchholz, Grant Haley and Jarvis Miller have one sack each for a combined total of 31 yards. Penn State’s defense has also totaled 15 QB hurries in its first two games.
Grant Haley has one interception he returned for 42 yards against Pitt. Amani Oruwariye and Troy Apke also have one interception each. Apke returned his interception for one yard against Pitt. CB Christian Campbell leads Penn State’s secondary with four passes broken up and four passes defended. The Nittany Lions’ 15 passes defended in its first two games against Akron and Pitt total 25-percent of the Nittany Lions’ total number of passes defensed (60) for the entire 2016 season.
KEY MATCHUP Penn State Strongside DE Shareef Miller vs. Georgia State sophomore LT Hunter Atkinson (6-4, 285), plus Penn State CB Grant Haley vs. Georgia State sophomore WR Penny Hart. The key to completely shutting down Georgia State’s offense is putting pressure on Manning. That’s why the matchup between Miller and Panther LT Atkinson is critical.
EDGE: PENN STATE
THE LOWDOWN The big advantage here goes to Penn State. The Nittany Lions have the leading punt returner in RS juniorDeAndre Thompkins averaging 22.6 yards per punt return with a 61-yard return for a TD. Punter Blake Gillikin averages 44.9 yards per punt on his eight punts this season, and has allowed zero punt return yards. Penn State’s kickoff return unit ranks first in the Big Ten with a kickoff return average of 7.3 yards per return and a net kickoff average of 44.0 yards.
Bateman averages 5.0 yards per punt return. Sophomore P Oliver Holdenson averaged 41.5 yards per punt against Tennessee State. Senior PK Tyler Davis is one of the top two placekickers in the Big Ten. He converted on two of three field goals with a carreer-long of 47 yards this season. Georgia State So. PK Brandon Wright missed his only field goal attempt of 20 yards against Tennessee State.
EDGE: PENN STATE
THIS ‘N’ THAT
THE LOWDOWN This will be the first game ever between Georgia State and Penn State.
EDGE: PENN STATE
THE LOWDOWN This is Shawn Elliott’s first year as Georgia State’s head coach. His only other head coaching experience was at South Carolina when he was the Interim Head Coach in 2015 with a 1-5 record. James Franklin is in his fourth year as the head coach at Penn State coming off of an 11-3 record in 2016 with a Rose Bowl appearance against Southern California.
EDGE: PENN STATE