By: Mac Cummings, @SSN_GSU
Photo taken by Brian Losness - USA Today Sports
There’s no denying the end of the regular season didn’t end the way the Panthers would have liked, with them losing five of their last six games. The bad taste that was undoubtedly left in all of the coaches and players mouths finally got washed away by a staple root vegetable: potatoes. Georgia State entered the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl with a 6-6 record and just about everything left to prove to themselves, their fans, and everyone else watching. What they proved in their victory was that this team is much better than their record indicates and when they play like they did in Boise, there’s not many G5 teams better than them. Georgia State is often referred to as a “sleeping giant” due to its prominent location in a major city and with the recruiting hotbed that is the Atlanta metropolitan area. This sleeping giant woke up in Idaho, if only for a moment, and showed exactly what this program can do when firing on all cylinders. Because of this, these guys may have the taste of potatoes in their mouths all offseason, but I don’t think anyone is complaining about that.
The game started off hot with both teams going blow for blow in the first quarter. Before anyone knew it, the game had 35 total points scored and was shaping up to be another classic bowl game shootout. The explosive plays in the first quarter were of no shortage as each team was flying down the field. Jalen Royals of Utah State had a 35-yard touchdown grab, Georgia State legend Freddie Brock busted a 60 yarder, USU's Davon Booth took a 65-yard house call, and of course our very own Darren Grainger had a 32-yard scamper to help the Panthers go up 21-14 at the end of the first. The excitement could not be higher heading into the second, but only one team would keep that excitement going.
When the second quarter starts with a missed field goal and two turnovers, it was an unwelcomed change of pace by all parties involved. You had to know some form of sloppy play was coming from the Panthers after a near perfect first quarter. Costly penalties and inexplainable mistakes slowed the Panthers offense down quite a bit in the beginning of the second as the Panthers were only able to put up 3 points after back-to-back drives that ended in the Utah State redzone. However, the guys from Atlanta would tighten up after these few mishaps and dominate the rest of the game, ending the second quarter on a 9 play, 80 yard drive capped off with a 23-yard Cadarrius Thompson touchdown snag. The Panthers would take a 31-14 lead into the intermission and this one was all but over at the break.
The second half saw both teams slow down a bit as there were 45 combined points in the first and 22 in the second. The Panthers scored 14 of those 22. As we all expected, Georgia State controlled this game from the kickoff to the final whistle. Freddie Brock and the offensive line continued to command the line of scrimmage as he broke off runs of 43 yards and 31 yards to bring his totals for the afternoon to 24 carries for 276 yards and a touchdown. That's a Georgia State single-game record and a whopping 11.5 yards per carry. Needless to say, Freddie was ready in Boise. Darren added another 111 yards on the ground and after a performances like that, all we can hope is that the Panthers used several game balls because there are at least 5 hog mollies that deserve one. The Georgia State rushing attack had a combined 49 carries for 386 yards with an impressive 7.9 YPC. The Panthers never really let up in the one and won the game in convincing fashion with a 45-22 victory over the Aggies of Utah State.
Something was most certainly proven in this game, whether you may agree with it or not, and that is that Darren Grainger is the greatest player to ever come through this program. He ended his career at GSU with a quintessential DG3 game throwing for 257 yards and 3 touchdowns with another 111 yards on the ground and two more scores. This brings his totals in the two bowl games in which he played for GSU at 460 passing yards with 6 touchdowns and 233 rushing yards with 3 touchdowns. Those are video game numbers in arguably the two biggest games in each respective season. He ends his career at Georgia State being the all-time leader in passing touchdowns, all-purpose yards, and wins. There are certainly arguments for other GSU greats in our short history. But the numbers, the wins, the eye tests, and just about everything else point to Mr. Grainger being the greatest player to ever suit up in the blue and white. With his legacy cemented as a player on the field, the Panther Family knows he will cement it even more off the field. Thank you for everything Darren!
This season ended on a high note and a high note that everyone in the Panther Family desperately needed. My previous criticisms of Coach Shawn Elliott and his staff were loud this year so I will let my praises be just as loud. In a bowl game in which his team and staff had to fly across the country for and lost a considerable amount of talent and production to the transfer portal and NFL Draft submissions, Coach Elliott had his guys more than prepared. Whether it's team bonding outings like they did in Boise with tubing down a snowy hill or keeping the intensity up by yelling in a referee's ear while up three scores in the 4th. Coach Elliott has proven he knows how to get his guys ready for a big game and now the test going into 2024 is how can he do that for a 12-game season. As long as he does what he did this week, this program will be competing for Sun Belt Championships and more in no time. Being one of six schools with an undefeated bowl record since 2020 is a serious accolade, especially considering the status of some of other schools that share that accolade with us. This is all thanks to Coach Elliott and his staff's consistency over the years. It's no lie that the Panther Family wanted more out of this season, especially considering the 6-1 start. But getting the program's fourth bowl win in the last six season is nothing to downplay. The ride may not always look pretty, but facts are facts. This program is on a meteoric rise and Coach Elliott is the one steering this thing.