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Curry, Georgia State expect 'load' in battling S.C. State
Bill Curry would like his final season-opener as Georgia State head coach this Thursday against South Carolina State to emulate the two previous ones.
Victories over Shorter College and Clark-Atlanta were by the exact same dominant score 41-7 before home crowds averaging just over 28,000 fans.
While a similar turnout is expected for this year’s 7:30 p.m. season-opener against the Bulldogs, Curry does not see the outcome as certain given the level of opponent.
“The two previous openers were with universities that played at a different level that did not have the same advantages in terms of scholarships and that sort of thing and we should have won handily,” said Curry during Monday’s Colonial Athletic Association teleconference. “We did. But this time, we’re playing a South Carolina State team that’s had 11 straight winning seasons and they’re one of the better (Football Championship Subdivision) programs in America. They’ve been a playoff team. They do a great job of coaching the things that cause you to win games.
“They are a load. So it’ll be an entirely different challenge for us to take on a confident, tough South Carolina State team as opposed to the previous two.”
Last year’s 23-13 loss in Orangeburg typified, in Curry’s words, a “troubling characteristic” of a 3-8 team. Leading 13-10 in the third quarter and getting a single-game school team record 244 rushing yards, the Panthers were unable to maintain momentum in allowing 13 unanswered points.
“We could make all kinds of excuses about depth and people having to play too many plays and getting tired,” said Curry, who recently announced his intent to retire at the end of the season. “I don’t think that was it. I think it was a matter of executing and believing you’re going to win down the stretch and we’ve got to turn that corner and do it against a South Carolina State team or someone like that would be a great thing.”
The Panthers return six players on offense and four players on defense. However, how they fare could depend on freshmen on both sides of the football, starting with quarterback Ben McLane.
“Ben McLane, fortunately for him, has had a year to get accustomed to our system,” Curry said. “He was redshirted last year and before that, he and his Brookwood High School team won the (Class 5-A) championship in the state of Georgia in the (Georgia) Dome. So he has played big games in this very venue. He understands what noise and flying around is like.
“What he has not experienced – and this is the question that you can never really completely answer – is he hasn’t experienced the speed of the game like he’s going to see Thursday night. And how quickly he adjusts to South Carolina State’s speed will determine how well he plays. I think he’ll do fine. We have to see, but we’ve got to do a great job of surrounding him with excellent protection, by running the ball well and playing well in the other parts of the game.”
Georgia State returns only one starter (tackle and Columbia native Grant King) on the offensive line. On the ground, Georgia State will look once again towards former quarterback Kelton Hill and senior Donald Russell, a transfer from the University of Kentucky and last year’s team leading rusher (665 yards) and MVP.
The duo combined for 179 yards and a touchdown against S.C. State and Curry said Russell has lost 15 pounds, but has maintained his power.
“Donald is the kind of guy that can take a pounding and dish it out,” Curry said. “He can run over middle linebackers and he’ll have a chance to do that this game because South Carolina State’s got a heck of a middle linebacker named Joe Thomas. I’m not suggesting he’s going to run over Joe easily, but that’ll be a good match-up. What we’ve got to do is make sure we get a hat on Joe Thomas so that he doesn’t get a free shot on any of our backs.”
When McLane throws the football, his main target will be preseason All-CAA wide receiver Albert Watson. The 5-9, 195-pound Florida native, who like S.C. State’s Darius Drummond and Stephen Murphy is a College Football Performance Award’s “Watch” list candidate as a punt and kickoff returner and wide receiver, is second in school history in receptions (56) and receiving yards (1,066) and the career leader in all-purpose yards (2,142 yards).
Defensively, the Panthers have high expectations for a pair of true freshmen in inside linebacker Joseph Peterson and defensive tackle Joe Lockley who have conducted themselves like veterans.
“We didn’t have anybody like Joseph Peterson or Joe Lockley physically or from a leadership perspective the last two years,” Curry said. “We had some good players and some guys that played well and we’re proud of them, but these (two)…there’s something about growing up in South Georgia and South Alabama and they did that respectively. Joe Lockley at South Georgia and Joe Peterson at Dothan, Ala. and football is seen as very, very important and when they showed up on campus, they didn’t say much.
“They’re both quiet. They don’t say much, but when they come on the practice field, it’s all serious business. They’ve each contributed by learning their assignments very quickly. They can play, surprising us with their absorption level and their capacity to contribute. So yes, they are going to play and they are quiet leaders. They’re not verbal, vocal guys out there yelling. But they’re bouncing around and they understand football and they understand what it takes to take this program from being in its infancy to being a real football team. So yes, they are going to play and they’re going to contribute.”
PANTHER NOTES: Georgia State is a member this season of the Colonial Athletic Association. Because it is moving up to the Football Bowl Subdivision to join the Sunbelt Conference in 2013, it’s not eligible for the regular-season title and post-season play…New defensive coordinator Anthony Midget , a former All-America defensive back at Virginia Tech, was promoted from DB coach…Alvin, S.C., native and former Georgia Tech quarterback Joe Hamilton is the running backs coach. There are four Palmetto State players on the Panthers’ roster - King, tackle Ramell Davis of St. Matthews (Calhoun County) , defensive back Chris Jenkins of Eutawville (Lake Marion) and wide receiver Jordan Giles (Spring Valley).