College football season is back and the Georgia State Panthers will open their season at Rocky Top against the Tennessee Volunteers. Both teams are coming off a rough 2018 season with the Volunteers finishing 5-7 (2-6 in SEC play) while the Panthers finished 2-10 (1-7 in Sun Belt). The Panthers know they are up against one of the premier SEC teams in the Volunteers and will take a lot to pull off a huge upset.
Going into his third year as head coach, Shawn Elliott is looking to improve on the defensive side of the ball.
“We weren’t very good at creating turnovers a year ago and pressuring the quarterback,” Elliott said after the Panthers Spring game in April.
The Panthers finished last in the Sun Belt in sacks by and interceptions in 2018. Going into the season opener Saturday, Elliott feels confident in his team to get the job done and start the season with a win.
“We’ve done the things necessary to get ourselves in position to go compete and play well,” Elliott said. “I think we’re ready to go out and play them.”
Returning starting quarterback Dan Ellington knows that it is going to take a total team effort for the Panthers to open the season with a win.
“We can’t let the game get too big, or over our heads,” said Ellington. “We know who we’re playing, we’re playing Tennessee. At the end of the day, we just have to go play and have fun.”
Ellington and the offense has also evaluated the defense of the Volunteers but knows what will be the key to slowing (or neutralizing) them.
“They play a lot of man to man, cover four type stuff,” said Ellington. “Their linebackers are pretty good and their corners like to make plays. Ultimately, we just have to make sure we’re bringing it.”
Ellington is coming off the 2018 season where he finished with a 59.6 completion percentage, 2119 yards, 12 touchdowns and five interceptions. He also wants to improve and has personal goals for this season.
“[I] want to get Georgia State back to their winning ways,” said Ellington. “Personally, I want to win Sun Belt Player of the year.”
Ellington will be aided by returning running back Tra Barnett who finished second in team rushing last season. Barnett led all running backs in touchdowns with seven. Barnett believes his improvements from spring practice has helped and prepared him for this season.
“I’ve gotten bigger, stronger, a lot faster and I’ve gained a lot about my position and the offensive line as well,” Barnett said.
Barnett is also confident in the offensive line and a big potential season they can have.
“We have a lot of people coming back from the O-Line and they’ve gotten bigger and stronger as well,” said Barnett. “I feel like they have developed into a better football player.”
On defense, the Panthers will be helped by returning senior linebacker Ed Curney. Curney led the team in tackles with 81 and loves the new scheme.
“We get to play downhill [and] we get to play fast,” said Curney. “I love it. I love how I get to play in space and showcase my talents.
Not only does Curney love the defense because it gets him a chance to show off his best skills, he likes how beneficial it is for his teammates.
“I love how we tackle now, take shots and fly around together,” Curney said. “That’s another great improvement.”
Game time is at 3:30 p.m. at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tennessee. The game will be televised on ESPNU.