Red Wolves look to get their first Sun Belt win win they host the Panthers on Thursday night
Arkansas State will try to snap a two-game losing streak when the Red Wolves welcome Georgia State to Centennial Bank Stadium on Thursday. At 3-3 overall and 0-2 in Sun Belt Conference play, Arkansas State is off to its worst start since 2016. All is not lost, though, as the Red Wolves can take comfort in knowing they bounced back that year to win six of their last seven games, including a Cure Bowl win. A victory against Georgia State would put them on the right track.
Georgia State hasn’t fared much better this season, as the Panthers limp into their weeknight matchup with a 2-4 overall record. With a bye last week, the Panthers are well rested as they return to play. Georgia State is 1-1 in Sun Belt Conference games but is winless in three road trips this year. Thursday marks the Panthers’ second consecutive road contest.
Arkansas State has won all four of its games against Georgia State since the teams first met in 2013. The Red Wolves earned a 31-16 victory in their last meeting in 2016.
Georgia State at Arkansas State
Kickoff: Thursday, Oct. 18 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Arkansas State -14
Three Things to Watch
1. Justice Hansen’s record watch
The reigning Sun Belt Conference Offensive Player of the Year needs just one touchdown pass to cement himself as Arkansas State’s career leader. The senior enters Thursday’s matchup with a career 67 touchdown passes and 8,224 yards. He’s thrown touchdown passes in all but two of his games this year, and seeing as Appalachian State’s defense kept him from the end zone last week, he has added incentive to break the record early.
Hansen has passed for 1,538 yards and 11 touchdowns against five interceptions this season. In his 2016 meeting against Georgia State, he threw for 212 yards on 15 completions, but the Panthers defense held him scoreless. He’s sure to remember that fact when he takes the field Thursday.
2. Fixes to Georgia State’s defense
If Georgia State is to contend in the Sun Belt during the second half of the season, it must address its holes on defense. The Panthers are ranked No. 119 in FBS in total defense, and they rank next to last in the Sun Belt Conference after allowing 491.5 yards per contest in their six games this year. Georgia State’s opponents are averaging 7.58 yards per play and have scored 26 touchdowns.
Arkansas State hasn’t flashed the prowess on offense it’s been accustomed to showing in recent years. At 23.5 points per game, the Red Wolves rank eighth out of 10 in the Sun Belt Conference in scoring offense. Arkansas State has scored just 30 points in its last two games combined and hasn’t scored more than 30 points in any of its last five outings.
3. Unfriendly skies
There’s no better pass defense than Arkansas State in the Sun Belt Conference. Nationally, only three teams rank above the Red Wolves in the category. Arkansas State boasts FBS’ No. 4 pass defense, and opposing quarterbacks have thrown for just 884 yards against it this season. The Red Wolves secondary has allowed 147.3 yards passing, and quarterbacks have managed only 75 completions.
Georgia State enters Thursday with the nation’s 79th-ranked passing offense. Quarterback Dan Ellington has thrown for 285 and 272 yards in two of his last three games, and while he’s known as a true dual threat, he appears to be adjusting more to the passing game. Arkansas State’s stifling pass defense should present a good challenge for him.
Despite its slower-than-usual start this year, Arkansas State remains one of the Sun Belt Conference’s premier teams, as evidenced by the Red Wolves six conference championships. Hansen and the Red Wolves’ offense need a spark after managing nine points last week against Appalachian State. Arkansas State is also impeccable in weeknight games and has won eight of its last nine weeknight contests.
Georgia State received a much-needed bye last week. Ellington has shown flashes of brilliance this season, and receiver Penny Hart ranks among the conference’s best at the position. A porous defense, however, will be too much to overcome, and Arkansas State should grab its fourth win of the season.
Prediction: Arkansas State 31, Georgia State 17
— Written by Elton Hayes, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. A sports reporter for The Meridian Star, Hayes also has been an invited guest on "The Paul Finebaum Show." Follow him on Twitter @EHDC12.
(Top photo courtesy of Arkansas State Athletics)