If anyone needed a sign that college football has made its long-awaited return, they got the message Saturday.
The Georgia State Panthers, coming off a devastating 2-10 season, made a $950k trip to the infamous Neyland Stadium and did the unthinkable — won the ball game.
But there should have been some optimism that the Panthers would execute a massive upset. Tennessee isn’t considered a powerhouse team in the SEC East among their counterparts (Georgia and Florida), and they didn’t have a great season last year either (5-7, good enough for last in the conference). For four quarters of football, they silenced the Rocky Top chants and gained national recognition in their 38-30 win.
In 2017, the Panthers, led by head coach Shawn Elliott, made history by winning the Cure Bowl – their first bowl victory in the program’s existence. But their win against the Volunteers surely takes the trophy for the most impactful win for the university.
“I don’t know if anyone else in the country believed that a program just a mere 10 years old could come in here to Neyland Stadium at the University of Tennessee and beat them,” Elliott said to media members following the game. “We believed. We notched a signature win for our university and our football program.”
Here’s how they did it:
Three things lead every great football program: A great coaching staff, a dynamic quarterback and a dominating defense — Alabama, Clemson, and Georgia are prime examples.
Last year was disappointing for Elliott and his staff, but they are responsible for winning a bowl game. So, there’s no denying he can lead his program back to a winning season. One must give credit, though to his offensive and defensive coordinators for establishing a strategic game plan. The Panthers started the game with a forced fumble by defensive end Hardwick Willis, and it was recovered by senior linebacker Ed Curney. The Panthers took full advantage by punching in a two-yard run by Seth Paige to give them an early 7-0 lead.
The defense made big plays all game. In total, they forced three turnovers to give their offense prime opportunities to put more points on the board — and that’s what quarterback Dan Ellington and company did.
The offense started the game sluggish, but as the defense continuously made stops, it gave them the confidence to make plays.
“I am just so proud of our guys and players because, ultimately, they work so hard to do the things necessary to put us in a position to even to go and compete,” Elliott said. “It was a joy to sit back and watch the confidence in our guys’ eyes and hearts.”
Ellington rocked the Volunteers to sleep with his 22-yard touchdown run with 4:45 left to play that solidified the Panthers’ win. He has proven he is a true leader dating back to last year where he was named All-SunBelt Conference. He finished the game with139 yards passing with two touchdowns and rushed for 61 yards.
Tra Barnett also had himself a day with 95 rushing yards and a touchdown. His biggest play came off a 19-yard touchdown run that gave Georgia State a 28-23 lead with 8:56 to play in the game.
What’s next for the Panthers:
A monumental win can do one or two things to a team early in the season: Build momentum or force a team to fold due to future expectations.
Luckily, the Panthers have a great chance to build on an already promising season. They host Furman on Sept. 7 at 7 p.m. at Georgia State Stadium and are expecting to avoid a home-opening collapse, unlike Tennessee. Of course, anything can take place on any given Saturday, but one thing is for certain, no team is going to overlook the Panthers going forward.