Even without starting quarterback Grayson McCall, the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers passed their first test as a ranked team by beating Georgia Southern 28-14 last week. Now 5-0 overall and 3-0 in Sun Belt Conference play, the Chants enter Saturday's game against the Georgia State Panthers ranked No. 20 in the AP poll. Georgia State, which upset Troy 36-34 to improve to 2-2 overall and 1-2 in conference, is looking for its first-ever victory over a ranked opponent.
Coastal Carolina vs. Georgia State
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 31, at 12 p.m. ET
Spread: Coastal Carolina -2.5
When Coastal Carolina Has the Ball
Grayson McCall completed 59-of-87 pass attempts (67.8 percent) for 930 yards (10.7 yards per attempt), 11 touchdowns, and just one interception across his first four career starts, making him one of the most productive passers in the country. His 184 rushing yards and three touchdowns made him arguably one of the best all-around quarterbacks. Unfortunately, an upper-body injury sidelined McCall against Georgia Southern and is likely to keep him off the field again this weekend.
If McCall can't go, the Chants have a solid backup plan. Fred Payton made his 12th career start last week and completed 15-of-28 passes for 252 yards and three touchdowns with two interceptions. Payton connected with Sam Denmark on a 72-yard touchdown pass to open the scoring and hit Jaivon Heiligh five times for 107 yards. Kameron Brown and CJ Marable also caught touchdown passes. Heiligh has been Coastal Carolina's leading receiver all year, with 25 receptions, 434 yards, and four touchdowns — all atop the stat sheet. Marable ranks second on the team with 14 receptions and is tied with tight end Isaiah Likely (seven receptions, 215 yards) for second with three touchdowns. He is also the team leader with 282 rushing yards and four touchdowns on 83 carries.
When Georgia State Has the Ball
Though his numbers don't stack up on a national level like McCall, Georgia State has its own impressive first-year starter in redshirt freshman Cornelious "Quad" Brown IV. Brown has completed 59.1 percent of his passes for 917 yards and nine touchdowns with four interceptions, averaging 6.9 yards per attempt along the way. He also leads the team with four rushing touchdowns and ranks third with 186 rushing yards.
Leading rusher Destin Coates (378 yards, 3 touchdowns) returned to action against Troy and ran for 115 yards on 25 carries — his third 100-yard game in as many appearances this year. Coates missed the 59-52 loss to Arkansas State, and though the Panthers rolled up 269 rushing yards and Tucker Gregg emerged as a weapon with 142 yards and a touchdown on just 14 carries in his stead, it is good to have Coates back atop the depth chart.
Receiver Cornelius McCoy, on the other hand, has missed each of the last two games and is questionable to return to take on the Chanticleers. Sam Pinckney has thrived in McCoy's absence — including a 146-yard, three-touchdown performance against Arkansas State — and leads the Panthers with 22 receptions, 354 yards, and five touchdowns. Tight end Roger Carter broke out with seven receptions, 72 yards, and two touchdowns last week against Troy and ranks second on the squad with 11 receptions, 160 yards, and three scores overall.
Traditional statistics don't fully capture the improvement Georgia State has made defensively in 2020. The Panthers rank ninth in the Sun Belt and 82nd (out of 101 teams) in total defense (465.3 yards allowed per game) and have surrendered 5.87 yards per play, which ranks 62nd in the country. But the Panthers have allowed just 97.0 rushing yards per game and 3.15 yards per attempt — both of which lead the conference.
Georgia State has also turned up the pressure on opponents, ranking 21st nationally in pass-rushing grade, according to PFF, and second in the Sun Belt with 13.0 sacks. Linebacker Jordan Strachan leads the conference with 5.0 sacks. But the Panthers may not have an edge in that area against Coastal Carolina, which ranks 13th in PFF pass-rushing grade and leads the Sun Belt (and rank eight in FBS) with 17.0 sacks. Of the five Sun Belt defenders to have recorded 3.0 sacks this season, three — Jeffrey Ginter (3.5), C.J. Brewer (3.5), and Silas Kelly (3.0) — are Chanticleers. And that doesn't even include Tarron Jackson (2.5 sacks), who is arguably the best defensive player and top pro prospect in the Sun Belt.
The Chants have surrendered a modest 5.31 yards per play, which ranks No. 35 on the FBS leaderboard, but have held opponents to 345.0 total yards per contest, which is the second-best mark in the Sun Belt and ranks No. 26 overall. Diving deeper into the advanced stats leaderboard, Coastal Carolina has performed well against the pass, having averaged -.274 expected points added per pass, which ranks No. 11 in the FBS, as well as a Sun Belt-leading 6.3 yards allowed per pass attempt (compared to GSU's 7.6, which ranks seventh in the conference).
Field position has also been key, with the Chanticleers starting drives 10.809 yards better on average than FBS opponents, which is the fifth-best margin nationally. And drive efficiency is another major strength, as Coastal Carolina ranks No. 12 nationally with 3.273 points per drive on offense and sits 16th with a margin of 1.405 points per drive.
Playing without McCall hurts, but Payton is a capable replacement, and the Coastal Carolina defense should put a lot of pressure on Brown in the Georgia State passing game. The Panthers should run the ball well enough to keep the score close, but even with the top rushing defense in the conference, it's difficult to imagine Georgia State shutting down the Chanticleers on the ground. Expect Marable and Payton to do enough damage for Coastal Carolina to leave Atlanta with a victory, and with its national ranking still intact.
Prediction: Coastal Carolina 35, Georgia State 30
Podcast: Week 9 Preview and Predictions
(CJ Marable photo courtesy of Coastal Carolina Athletics)