ATLANTA — Georgia State, desperately in need of a victory, hopes to do it in a milestone game Saturday.
The Panthers host Troy at the Georgia Dome in what will be their first conference game as a member of the Sun Belt Conference.
The two teams have met on the basketball court numerous times as Georgia State was one of the founding members of the conference, as well as when both were members of the now defunct Trans-Atlantic Athletic Conference. This will be their first-ever meeting in football.
"We're very excited for our young men to enter this phase of our program as we play our very first game in the Sun Belt," GSU head coach Trent Miles said Tuesday at his weekly press conference.
Georgia State (0-5) has lost 11 straight games and has just a 10-28 record in now their fourth season. Last week, the Panthers traveled to top-ranked Alabama, losing 45-3.
Troy (3-3, 1-1) faces Georgia State coming off a dramatic, come-from-behind victory against another recent Sun Belt addition, South Alabama. The Jaguars began their program in 2010 as well and are playing in their second season in the Sun Belt.
The Trojans have a very high tempo and effective offensive attack led by senior quarterback Corey Robinson, who leads the Sun Belt with 1,539 yards on the season and an incredible 74.2 percent completion percentage. Troy averages 318 passing yards per game while Georgia State's secondary gives up 259 yards per game in the air. However, the Panthers have faced several run-heavy offenses through their first five games, making Troy by far the biggest test the Panther defensive backs have faced to date.
Miles has emphasized high tempo in practice this week trying to get ready for the high octane Troy attack. But he insists that the Panthers will not try to match the Trojans' tempo, but instead will try to slow the game down and control the possession.
"You've got to be able to control the football," Miles said. "Keep the ball on offense and try to keep (Robinson) off the field. You're not going to slow him down. You're not going to stop him. You can try to contain him. You've got to get pressure on him. You've got to make him get it out of his hands immediately, but they do such a good job of getting it out of his hands on their own."
In order for Georgia State to be successful in that plan on Saturday they must improve their running game, which ranks last in the conference at just over 80 yards per game. That effort should be aided with the return of Grant King, a fifth-year senior who prior to missing the first four games of the season due to academic violations had started every game in Georgia State's history.
Troy's defense has some holes and will be playing without two starters in the first half. Strong safety Chris Picket and defensive end Tyler Roberts are both facing suspensions for committing targeting violations in the Trojans' game against South Alabama. That will leave a defense, which already ranks last in the conference statistically, without two of its best playmakers for the first 30 minutes of Saturday's game.
The key for the Panthers will be to protect the ball and to get on the board early. They must strike at the short-handed Troy defense early on in the game and then have success running the football to control the clock late. If Georgia State is able to do that successfully then, it may be a homecoming celebration with Miles' first victory.