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Georgia State aims for first win vs. Jacksonville State

Georgia State is still searching for its first win under first-year head coach Trent Miles, and the next opportunity comes Saturday as the Panthers host Jacksonville State in the Georgia Dome.

The two teams have met twice previously, both of which were Jacksonville State victories, including a 34-27 overtime game in 2010.

Georgia State, which joined the Football Bowl Subdivision and the Sun Belt Conference prior to this season, has gotten off to an 0-3 start including losses to two lower division teams in Samford and Chattanooga. Last week, the Panthers kept the game close well into the third quarter against West Virginia, but the Mountaineers scored 24 points in the final 20 minutes to win 41-7.

Jacksonville State comes into the game with a 3-0 record under its own first-year head coach Bill Clark. The Gamecocks have been a historically formidable FCS foe, having beaten four FBS opponents in their history. The most recent victory came in overtime in 2010 against Ole Miss, 49-48. Jacksonville State is receiving votes in the FCS top 25 polls.

JSU has four Gwinnett products on its roster: Mill Creek’s James Powell at linebacker, South Gwinnett’s Michael Bradford at wide receiver, and kickers Griffin Thomas of South Gwinnett and Connor Rouleau of Peachtree Ridge.

“I’ll say this about Jacksonville State, they’re a very fast football team,” Miles said at his weekly press conference. “They’re very talented. They’re well-coached. They’re undefeated. They will come in here big and strong and fast.”

Georgia State experienced some mild success defensively against West Virginia, forcing a turnover and stopping the Mountaineers on a fourth-down conversion. The Panthers also got their running game going for the first time this season as senior Travis Evans set a career high with 118 yards. Evans also had a 65-yard touchdown run, which was the longest run in Georgia State’s short history.

The success on the ground came after Miles had reassigned former running backs coach Tony Tiller to another position within the athletic department and assigned graduate assistant Brock Lough to coach the position for the remainder of the season. Georgia State had run for just 102 yards in their first two games combined.

Georgia State was flagged for six false starts last week after it lost two starting fifth-year offensive linemen, both of whom left the team for personal reasons. The Panthers’ offense does not feature a variety of playmakers, and therefore will look to keep its down and distances manageable. Costly penalties that put the offense in second and third and long situations is partly what led to the Panthers having to punt the ball 10 times a week ago.

Georgia State’s offensive line did receive a boost this week with the return of Duluth grad Mark Ruskell, who practiced for the first time this fall after having off-season ankle surgery. Ruskell could see time at either guard or center on Saturday.

Starting quarterback Ronnie Bell threw for 391 yards in the opener against Samford, but has had only mild success in the last two games. Meanwhile Albert Wilson, who is Georgia State’s career leading receiver and arguably their most dangerous offensive weapon, was held without a single catch against West Virginia. The good news was that Bell did not throw an interception for the first time in his five starts. The Panthers need him to replicate that performance.

In order for the Panthers to end their seven-game losing streak and earn their first win under Miles, they will have to contain a vaunted read-option attack. Jacksonville State ranks seventh among all FCS teams with 269.3 rushing yards per game. The Gamecocks set an NCAA record earlier this season when they had four different players rush for over 100 yards against Jacksonville University. Georgia State faced an all-american running back in the season opener in Fabian Truss of Samford, whom it held to just 3 yards per carry.