ATLANTA -- Playing without injured starting quarterback Conner Manning, Georgia State turned to its defense, which scored twice on a fumble return and an interception return in the Panthers' 31-6 victory over UT Martin in Saturday's Homecoming game at the Georgia Dome.
Junior cornerback B.J. Clay grabbed two interceptions, including a 38-yard pick six, and sophomore defensive tackle Marterious Allen returned a fumble 23 yards for a score as Georgia State recorded two defensive touchdowns in a game for the first time in school history.
The six points allowed to UT Martin marked the fewest points allowed in a game in program history, and the Panthers did not allow a touchdown for the first time ever.
The Panthers (2-5, 1-2 Sun Belt) forced UT Martin (4-4, 3-1 OVC) into four total turnovers which led to 14 points.
Manning, who injured his throwing arm in practice Thursday, was replaced by redshirt freshman Aaron Winchester, who went 8-of-16 for 119 yards and a touchdown. Winchester also rushed for 75 yards on 16 attempts, including a long of 18 yards.
"I'm very proud of our football team," head coach Trent Miles said." I'm proud of the way they performed today in what could have been a tough situtation, losing your starting quarterback basically the day before the game. That's a good football team we beat. They almost won at Hawai'i, they went to Cincinnati and had a chance to win that game, and they're going to win a bunch of games in their conference."
Georgia State led 10-3 in the third quarter when the defense broke the game open with scores on consecutive plays. First Allen broke through the middle of the line, scooped up a fumble caused by Kaleb Ringer and headed for the end zone, dragging several defenders the final five yards for the 23-yard score. That is GSU's first fumble return for a touchdown since 2013.
On UT Martin's next play from scrimmage, Clay, playing for injured starter Jerome Smith, stepped in front of backup quarterback Gunnar Holcombe's pass and returned it 38 yards for the score. That put Georgia State ahead 24-3 with less than five minutes left in the third quarter.
Clay came up with another turnover on the Skyhawks' next possession with an interception in the end zone. He tied a school record held by five other players with two picks in the game.
"The mark of a good football team is when the offense is struggling, the defense and special teams picks it up for them," Miles said. "We lost our starting quarterback on Thursday, but they played together as a team. The defense had some scores. Offense had some scores, and we won the game.”
Winchester started the Panthers' first scoring drive with a 16-yard run down to the UT Martin 35. After he dumped off to running back Darius Stubbs for a 13-yard gain down to the 7, he hit Glenn Smith for a 7-yard touchdown pass to put the Panthers on the board with a minute remaining in the first quarter.
In the second quarter, Winchester's 43-yard pass to Glenn Smith down the middle to the UT Martin 6-yard line set up Rogier ten Lohuis' 23-yard field goal, giving the Panthers a 10-0 lead with 6:33 to play in the half.
The Skyhawks managed a 44-yard field goal late in the second quarter, but for the fourth time in the last five games, the Georgia State defense did not allow a touchdown in the first half.
True freshman Darius Stubbs closed out the scoring with a 35-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.
“Offensively it was a little rough," Miles said. "For Aaron Winchester to find out he was the starter this morning, I thought there were some things he wishes he had back, but for his first time, he was able to move the ball around with his feet early in the game. And I was happy with the way Darius Stubbs ran the ball."
Georgia State was playing without several injured starters in addition Manning. On offense, running back Kyler Neal (ankle) and tight end Keith Rucker (ribs) were also out, and standout receiver Robert Davis was limited to one catch by a shoulder injury. On defense, cornerback Jerome Smith (hand) was out.