ATLANTA--The encore season of Georgia State football kicks off with the "Battle of the Panthers" as GSU plays host to Clark Atlanta Friday at 7:30 p.m. at the Georgia Dome.
Head coach Bill Curry is pleased with the progress of his second-year team, but he knows they are facing a tough test from their downtown Atlanta neighbors.
"When you look down their lineup, they are physically the match of anybody we play, especially on the defensive side of the ball," said Curry of Clark Atlanta. "They played defense really well last year, and they struggled a little bit on offense."
CAU is coming off a 4-6 record in 2010, the first season for head coach Daryl McNeill.
"They're an improving team because Coach McNeill knows exactly what he's doing," said Curry at his weekly press conference. "That is the other thing that you notice--they are well-coached. They know how to line up. They know how to run to the ball. They get in the right gap control. They run their plays well, they block well. They have a good deal of talent, so they will be a load for us.
"They run what is now considered, and I never thought I'd say this, an unusual offense," continued Curry. "They play two backs with a tight end, which is all we saw up until about six or eight years ago."
Curry noted that one of his former players at Georgia Tech, Jeff Mathis, is the strength and conditioning coach at Clark Atlanta.
As for his own team, Curry said he is eager to see how much his squad has improved since their inaugural season.
"Our goals are simple: we want to still beat the teams that we're expected to beat, and start beating teams we're not supposed to beat," he said.
"We want to finish the job," Curry continued. "We got into the fourth quarter last year with a few teams that were highly favored over us with a chance to win, but didn't. I want that to happen this time. I want us to be a dominant fourth-quarter team.
"The way to win consistently is to play the basics extremely well: turnover margin, explosive plays, no lost yardage, no stupid plays, no penalties, the things that everybody talks about."
Curry pointed out some specific positions that have shown the most progress.
"We should be improved in every area, especially up front on the offensive and defensive lines," said Curry. "Ben (Jacoby) has been the leader of our offensive line since the day we took the field. On the other side of the ball, Christo Bilukidi has provided outstanding leadership for us.
"The other area that I think we've shown a lot of improvement is the defensive backfield. We do have more depth and I think we should be better in the secondary. Along the line and in the secondary are the two pronounced areas of improvement I expect."
The only two starters to graduate from last season's team were placekicker Iain Vance, a third-team All-American, and his holder, Brandon Lupo. Both of those roles will be filled by true freshmen. Christian Benvenuto of Palm Coast, Fla., edged another true freshman, Matt Ehasz of Kingsland, Ga., for the placekicking duties, and Nathaniel Minor, a backup wide receiver from nearby Brookwood High School, will be the holder.
With a much more difficult schedule in season two, Curry wants his team to come out of the gate firing on all cylinders.
"I think it's very important to get off to a good start," said Curry. "You look at last year, and that was a shocking start. Shocking, to me, that we could actually go out there in our first game ever and not turn the ball over. Well, that means we are capable of that, so I expect it every week. If we can go out there, not turn the ball over and take it away from the other side, we have a chance against anybody and we need to do that this Friday night."
Season and individual game tickets are on sale now at 866-GA-STATE and GeorgiaStateSports.com. The game will be broadcast live on Atlanta flagship staion NewsTalk 1160-AM radio (The Talk of the Town) as well as on WMLB-AM (1690) and WRAS-FM (88.5).