- Gabriel Burns
A win Saturday would result in the winningest season in Georgia State history.
The Panthers host Idaho to conclude their regular season schedule. Already bowl eligible, the team can finish 6-2 in conference play and 7-4 overall, both would-be bests.
“I think that’s huge for the future of this place,” said quarterback Conner Manning, who’s set to play his final home game. “We’re going in the right direction. We’ve let a couple slip away. Just having the opportunity to still have seven wins is a tremendous accomplishment for us. But it’s something we felt like we could’ve done. We believe in ourselves and we earned this opportunity and now we have to go out and get it.”
GSU’s miscues – losses to Sun Belt powers Troy and Appalachian State – will prevent it from a first-place finish. The Panthers are likely ticketed for the Cure Bowl in Orlando or Camellia Bowl in Montgomery. But first, they must handle an Idaho team that nearly upset both the aforementioned opponents who easily disposed of the Panthers.
The Vandals are reeling: They’re lost three in a row, dropping to 2-5 in conference and 3-8 overall. But six of their eight losses came by one score, with the Trojans and Mountaineers defeats by three points each.
“Idaho’s a very good team,” senior defensive back Bryan Williams said. “They played close games against the top contenders in our conference like App State, Troy. We can’t sleep on this team. They have a good quarterback (Matt Linehan). I don’t know if he’s playing or not, these last two games he hasn’t started, but we’re expecting him to play. We just have to be ready for them.”
Linehan, like Williams, is a fifth-year senior. Due to an injured thumb, he’s likely to miss Idaho’s final Sun Belt game before it joins the Big Sky for next season.
“They’ve just been on the bad end of a couple games, a bunch of tight games,” Manning said. “Very good defense. They don’t do too much but they fly around. They’ll definitely come out here ready to play.”
The GSU seniors deflected talk about their final home game. Williams became a tad emotional, thankful for a healthy season after constantly battling injuries throughout his career. Manning, perhaps the best quarterback in the school’s history, stayed away from reflection and stuck to the task at hand.
“Everything is about getting this win, especially at home for these seniors,” he said.
That day-by-day, focused mentality is something coach Shawn Elliott instilled in the team before even the first game. Regardless of the player, the question; the responses sounded the same. Elliott wanted to institute a new culture, and he appears to be on the desired track.
As he nears departure, Manning commended the job Elliott’s done and believes the program is healthier than it’s ever been under his leadership.
“He’s definitely taken this place over and he’s running with it,” Manning said. “He’s got this, us players all pulling for the right direction and trying to accomplish the same thing. I think for future to come, him and the rest of this program are only going to get better. I really believe that the best is yet to come.”