- Doug Roberson The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Georgia State’s defense came up big when it counted in its past three games.
In close wins against South Alabama, Georgia Southern and Texas State, the Panthers’ defense produced stops on potential game-winning drives in the fourth quarter.
Georgia State’s defense will face its toughest Sun Belt conference challenge this season when it hosts Appalachian State on Saturday. The two are among three teams tied for first place. Saturday’s winner will need only to take the next game to claim at least a share of the conference title. The Panthers will host Idaho on Dec. 2.
“That’s how we want it to come down,” Georgia State senior cornerback Chandon Sullivan said. “Our coaches say they wouldn’t want it any other way, to come down to our defense. It gives us confidence that we can finish games. I know early in the season we struggled to put teams away late.”
The success of the Panthers’ defense has been built on the experience of an upperclassmen-laden depth chart that features five seniors or fifth-year seniors and four juniors or fourth-year juniors in the starting 11.
The players have used their experience to better understand their roles in coordinator Nate Fuqua’s defense.
The Panthers are allowing averages of 25 points and 384.7 yards per game. In the past three games, they are allowing averages of 20 points and 402 yards per game.
The Bobcats rang up 530 yards to skew that average. But when the Panthers needed to make a stop, they forced incomplete passes on third down and fourth down at the 44-yard line to get the ball back with 1:42 remaining. From there, they ran out the clock to secure their sixth win and become bowl-eligible.
Succeeding in that position three consecutive times has given the defense confidence that it can do so again.
“Something they feed off and understand they have an opportunity and (they) like that moment right now,” Fuqua said. “Early on, it might have been a little too much for them. But they’ve become accustomed to it and are starting to play all the way through and not let that get to them.”
Coach Shawn Elliott said the players have learned that finishing means focusing exclusively on their jobs and not doing too much. That confidence came from work in practice. Sullivan said they didn’t realize they could finish until it happened in games. Now, they focus on finishing every drill in every practice.
“Not difficult, but it takes time,” Sullivan said. “Nothing happens overnight. Good formula right now and we hope to keep winning.”