Having played the defending National Champion Alabama Crimson Tide two years ago in the inaugural season of GSU football, the Panthers are aware of what they will be walking into Saturday. While that game was televised nationally, the Tennessee game will only be available on pay-per-view and possibly online. However, the Tennessee environment will present its own challenges, which Georgia State Head Coach Bill Curry acknowledged in his weekly press conference.
"The stadium is, in terms of degree of loudness and the ability to drown out signals, it’s probably in the top five" Curry said. "It’s colorful with the checkerboard end zones and all that, and the incessant playing of that song. We’ve gotten our guys accustomed to hearing it….the trouble is that is sticks in your mind for about a year afterwards.”
Like the message Curry gave to his team before the Alabama game (seen here), the Georgia State Coach wants to make sure his team is ready to compete.
“Going into games like this, the most important thing the staff has to do is to cause the players to believe we have a chance to win this game,” said Curry. “I’ve been on both sides of the coin. I’ve been the coach of the hopeless underdog going into these situations and have seen our team win the game. And I’ve been on the other side when we were trying to convince people these guys might be dangerous and they could come up and play a lot better than people expect.”
Specifically, Curry referred to the 1981 Georgia Tech team that he said “was not as good as this Georgia State team.” That Yellow Jackets team finished with a record of 1-10, the one win being a 24-21 victory against an Alabama team that would go on to win the SEC.
As is often the case with GSU, the side stories surrounding this game in relation to Coach Curry’s past are prevalent:
- Curry’s first away game as a college player was at Tennessee.
- Curry has a long history with Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley as he competed against his father, Vince Dooley, and Curry’s son, Bill, was a teammate of Derek Dooley’s at Virginia.
- Curry has earned five victories against the Volunteers in his coaching career, including four straight from 1986-89 while coaching at Georgia Tech and Alabama.
- Curry is believed to be the first person to coach against Tennessee with four different schools.
However, Curry's history aside, this game is more about a a Panthers squad in their third year of playing football going up against a Volunteer squad that skipped playing in 1898 because of the Spanish-American War. Coming off of what can generously be called a “disappointing” loss to SC State, the Panthers need to show that they can be disciplined, execute and “man up and finish”, as the theme of this year’s team requires.
Offensively, it was announced earlier this week that former starting QB Kelton Hill has moved to defense as his primary role. This was both to get Hill more playing time or “getting our best 22 players on the field,” as Curry stated, but it was also to help solidify the identity of the offense, as reported by Doug Roberson of AJC.com.
This move should give redshirt freshman quarterback Ben McLane confidence that he is firmly in control of the offense, and help the entire offense to establish a better rhythm. However, a key to McLane's performance will be that of the offensive line which has yet to completely gel as a cohesive unit, giving up six sacks last week. In addition, receivers Danny Williams and Albert Wilson, who dropped passes in critical moments against SC State, will need to improve that aspect of their play. Finally, as the coaching staff admitted after last week’s loss that running back Donald Russell did not get enough touches, some pressure may be taken off McLane through a stepped-up running attack.
Defensively, the switch to the 4-2-5 scheme seems to have paid off, the additions of true freshmen Joe Lockley and Joseph Peterson have made a clear impact, and top noseguard returnee Terrance Woodard has clearly improved. However, the cornerbacks will need to show improvement against Tennessee’s formidable passing attack led by quarterback Tyler Bray if the Panthers are to have nay hope of slowing the Volunteer offense.
The bright spot for GSU Saturday may very well end up being its special teams. The few statistical areas where GSU outperformed SC State included average punt return, average kick return and average punt. As the only points the Panthers have scored against an FBS opponent came from Albert Wilson's 97-yard kickoff return against Alabama, perhaps the return game may once again yield an important spark for GSU against the Volunteers. In addition, coming off of his record-breaking 62.2 yard average against SC State, punter Matt Hubbard is poised to impress the SEC fans assembled in Neyland Stadium on Saturday.