August 30, 2018 Atlanta - Georgia State quarterback Dan Ellington (13) makes a handoff to Georgia State running back Destin Coates (17) in the second half of Georgia State season opening game against the Kennesaw State at Georgia State Stadium on Thursday, August 30, 2018. Georgia State won 24-20 over the Kennesaw State. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM
Photo: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
Photo: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Georgia State improving handoffs after costly miscues 

Georgia State looks to improve its running game and quarterback-running back exchanges ahead of its conference matchup against Coastal Carolina on Saturday. 

In its past two games, Georgia State averaged only 119.5 rushing yards compared with its opponents’ 306.5 average. Quarterback Dan Ellington leads the Panthers in rushing yards, with 322 through seven games. Of the running backs, freshman Seth Paige and junior Tra Barnett lead the group with a combined 440 rushing yards and six touchdowns this season.

“I didn’t even know I was the leading rusher until a couple of people told me,” Ellington said. “I got good backs back there, so I don’t mind handing the ball off to them. I know they’re going to do their jobs.”

However, Barnett and Ellington fell victim to miscues and fumbles when handing the ball off against Arkansas State. In last week’s game, both Ellington and Barnett fumbled, setting up two Red Wolves’ scoring drives. 

“It’s frustrating because we haven’t had that problem,” coach Shawn Elliott said. “That’s really the first thing we start doing is with our quarterbacks and exchanges with our backs, and we haven’t had a problem until the other night.” 

Those problems led to Georgia State’s second consecutive Sun Belt loss, falling to 1-2 in conference play. Along with struggling with handoffs, the Panthers also lost freshman running back Destin Coates, whose foot injury required surgery earlier this season. Coates has missed two games, yet remains the Panthers’ fourth leading rusher this season behind Ellington, Barnett, and Paige. 

On Saturday, the Panthers running game will be tested by a Coastal Carolina defense that has 15 sacks for 112 yards lost, which is the third-most yards lost in the Sun Belt. The challenge for the Panthers’ offense starts up front, where the offensive line must manipulate the Chanticleers’ unique defensive line to avoid losing its leading rusher to sacks. 

“They got a different front that we haven’t really seen before,” Ellington said. “I don’t think we’ve seen that all year.” 

The opportunity to revamp and fix mishandles comes against an unique, yet young Coastal Carolina defensive line. Coastal Carolina’s defense allowed 762 rushing yards and 11 rushing touchdowns in its three conference games this season. 

Along with experience on its side, Georgia State also returns home for the first time in four weeks after its open week and falling short to two consecutive Sun Belt opponents on the road. The Panthers have a 2-1 home record this season, losing only to Western Michigan in September. 

“To be back here and for it to be homecoming, it’s a normal routine,” Elliott said. “You don’t have to really change up anything, but to get back to what we know and what we’re best in doing.” 

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