Georgia State opens their season Thursday night against the South Carolina State Bulldogs. The Panthers released a depth chart today for the first game and notably absent from it is kicker Christian Benvenuto, who is serving a suspension for an off season incident. Another surprising note about the depth chart is that freshman linebacker Joseph Peterson is listed as the starter ahead of junior Robert Ferguson. But today we will focus on the Panther offense.
Thursday night's game will also feature the first collegiate appearance of quarterback Ben McLane. The redshirt freshman from Brookwood HS won the starting job in the spring and did enough to keep the spot through fall camp. Junior Kelton Hill will be the backup and will likely play in a wildcat role. Hill is one of the fastest guys on the team and his athleticism needs to be utilized in some way.
McLane ran a run heavy offense at Brookwood where he wasn't expected to win games with his arm, but rather protect the ball and manage the offense. He will likely face a similar responsibility on Thursday as Georgia State features one of the more talented running back corps in the country. The group is headlined by former Kentucky transfer Donald Russell who ran for a 5.2 yards per carry average in 2011. Russell suffered through injuries, but still led the Panthers in rushing with 665 yards. Russell is now completely healthy and has trimmed close to 30 pounds since coming to the Panthers in Spring 2011. Expect to see a heavy dose of Russell Thursday night.
Behind Russell are talented juniors Paris Lee and Travis Evans who should both get touches also. Evans is the perfect change of pace back for Russell due to his combination of speed and power. Lee is an incredible athlete who does very well catching the ball out of the back field and is one the strongest players on the team.
Between the three running backs, expect a heavy run attack. Georgia State's offensive line features four new starters, but this particular unit has been praised for being much more athletic than the last year's offensive line. This will allow Georgia State to utilize the no huddle offense, which has been a staple throughout spring and fall camp. McLane admitted that he was uncomfortable with it at first, but as he has become accustomed to the style it has become apparent that the no huddle suits his skills very well. The offensive line being more athletic will allow the offense to do more creative things with screens and counters where lineman are required to pull and block down field.
Another task that will fall on McLane is distributing the ball to his very talented receiving corps. Lead by Phil Steele's Third Team All-CAA selection Albert Wilson, the wide receivers are an experienced unit that returns every significant contributor from a year ago. Wilson as well as GSU's career leading receiver Danny Williams and slot man Jordan Giles are some of the most talented players on the team. The passing attack struggled in 2011, largely due to poor quarterback play, so it will fall on McLane to make sure that phase of the Panther's offense is much improved. Look for short routes, screens, timing routes, and dump offs that puts the ball in the play makers hands quickly and allows them the space to make a play.
Overall, the Panther offense is going to be all about how McLane manages the offense. Georgia State's offense struggled mightily in 2011 due to inconsistent QB play. He doesn't have to win the game with his arm. All McLane has to do is get the ball in the hands of Wilson, Russell, Lee, Williams, and Giles and watch them make plays. If he can keep his poise and make the basic throws, then Georgia State is too talented not to be successful.