When: Saturday, Sept. 8, 2012. Time TBA.
Where: Knoxville, Tenn.
Georgia State at a glance:
Head coach: Bill Curry (9-13 in 2 years at GSU)
Conference: CAA (Colonial Athletic Association)
All-time record: 9-13 (FCS)
Returning starters: 6 (offense), 6 (defense), 2 (specialists, kicker and punter)
2011 overview: The honeymoon was over for the Panthers in 2011. After an impressive 6-5 inaugural season in 2010 that included a national television appearance against Alabama, GSU struggled to a 3-8 mark in 2011 playing as an FCS independent. A season-opening win against Clark (Ga.) University and a win in the season finale against Campbell were bookends to a stretch in which the Panthers lost eight of nine games. They fell to Houston, their lone FBS opponent, 56-0. Curry offered a grim assessment of his team after the season. “We need to improve drastically in virtually every area,” Curry said.
Three matchups to watch:
1. GSU wide receivers vs. Tennessee secondary
The Panthers are searching for stability at quarterback, but they have plenty of experience at wide receiver. Danny Williams has been one of the most consistent players in the Panthers’ short history. The 6-foot-4, 200-pound junior has at least one reception in every game in the program’s brief history and 84 receptions for 1,134 yards and eight touchdowns in two seasons. The smaller (5-9) but more explosive Albert Wilson led the team in 2011 with 37 catches for 772 yards. Junior Jordan Giles has been a reliable and opportunistic third option. He made 16 catches in 2011, but four went for touchdowns.
GSU doesn’t have the consistency at quarterback to pick the Vols’ secondary apart. The key for Tennessee will be making tackles and keeping Williams and Wilson from going far once they do make a reception. Look for the Panthers to test the Vols deep a few times — especially if North Carolina State has any success doing so in the season opener.
2. Albert Wilson vs. Tennessee special teams
The Vols found themselves on the wrong end of several big kick returns in recent years. Wilson is accomplished as a wide receiver, but he’s also a home run threat as a kick and punt returner. He finished 2011 No. 8 in the FCS in punt return average (11.9 ypr). As a freshman in 2010, Wilson was effective against even the toughest opponent. His 97-yard kickoff return in the third quarter against Alabama was the Panthers’ only score against the Crimson Tide.
The Vols finished 2011 ranked No. 85 in the nation in punt return defense — allowing opponents to average just more than 10 yards per return. They did make significant progress in kickoff coverage. The opposition averaged only 18.1 yards per kickoff return in 2011 — putting the Vols in the top 10 in the nation in that category.
3. GSU offensive line vs. the Tennessee front seven
This matchup will provide Tennessee defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri a final opportunity to experiment with his new multiple-look defense before the SEC season begins. The Panthers have enough playmakers at running back and wide receiver to keep the defense honest, but their offensive line returns only one starter — right tackle Grant King.
Sunseri and the defense should be able to have their way with the Panthers enough to experiment with any look they still need to fine tune.
This game could also provide the first opportunity for some key newcomers to get battle tested. Daniel McCullers, a 370-pound defensive lineman from Georgia Military College, is just one example of a player the Vols will want to get extensive playing time in this game to see if he has the potential to be reliable contributor in 2012.
How will it play out?
Coach Bill Curry and the Panthers are working diligently to build a competitive program in Atlanta, but they aren’t ready to compete with an SEC team. The Panthers could spring a big play or two and put some points on the board just as they did against Alabama in 2010. But Tennessee has the advantage at every position and should win this one with ease. This game is nothing more than a tune up for the SEC schedule.