ATLANTA - Georgia State opened its encore season with a 41-7 victory over Division II Clark Atlanta before 26,273 fans at the Georgia Dome on Friday night. Sophomore Bo Schlechter, in his first collegiate start at quarterback, completed 13-of-18 passes for 196 yards and three touchdowns, two of them to Albert Wilson. Running back Donald Russell, playing his first game for GSU after transferring from Kentucky in the offseason, scored twice on the ground with 56 yards rushing to lead the Panthers.
"This was my first college start, but I tried to come out confident," Schlechter said. "It was just getting some plays run and I was able to build up some confidence going into the second quarter."
Schlechter, the starting punter and a reserve wide receiver last year during his freshman season, played in place of both Drew Little and Kelton Hill because of team-enforced suspensions to the Panthers' top two quarterbacks. He tossed the first TD pass of his college career to Jordan Giles on a 12-yard slant in the second quarter to make it a 24-0 GSU lead before halftime, then hit Wilson in the third and fourth quarters on scoring passes of 30 and 48 yards. The 48-yard TD connection is currently the longest touchdown pass in Panthers history.
"We had a quarterback who had never played a college game at quarterback and we had zero turnovers," said Georgia State head coach Bill Curry. "In my fondest dreams, I would have struggled to believe that."
Wilson finished with 85 yards receiving on three receptions, and tight end Emmanuel Ogbuehi added 48 yards receiving on three catches. Travis Evans was the Panthers' second-leading rusher with 52 yards on eight attempts.
"We've been waiting for this moment for a long time," Wilson said. "We had a great camp this summer. We were all anxious to see how Bo would play. He showed up and played well."
Schlechter also retained punting duties, averaging 39 yards on four punts and leaving two inside the CAU 20-yard line, including a punt downed at the 1 late in the fourth quarter.
The defense had two key takeaways in the second quarter, with linebackers Robert Ferguson and Demazio Skelton snagging interceptions on back-to-back Clark Atlanta possessions to set up short touchdown drives.
The first interception, by Skelton on a pass from CAU quarterback Bryan Mann, gave GSU possession at the Clark Atlanta 34-yard line. The ensuing two-play scoring drive consisted of a 14-yard first-down pass to wide receiver Danny Williams, then a 20-yard touchdown run by Russell. On CAU's next possession, Ferguson intercepted quarterback T.J. Smith and returned it 31 yards to the 3-yard line, with Russell again rushing for the score on the next play to make it 17-0 Georgia State.
"We had terrific backs before, but Donald makes a difference when he handles the ball, and you saw that tonight," Curry said. "He has the capacity and the physicality to punish tacklers and spin away and run away from some others. That's a gift, and a lot of great backs have that."
GSU freshman kicker Christian Benvenuto converted his first collegiate field goal try from 44 yards out to make the score 3-0 with 3:34 left in the first quarter, then hit a 45-yarder in the third quarter for a perfect debut.
Clark Atlanta (0-1) got on the scoreboard with a 34-yard touchdown pass from Mann to Terrence Milton on the first play of the fourth quarter. Georgia State (1-0) held CAU to 12 first downs and 140 yards rushing, and the quarterback duo of Mann and Smith combined for just 104 yards passing on 10 completions. Defensive end A.J. Portee tied for the lead in tackles with five total stops, and led the team with two tackles for loss.
"The run defense against their run offense was pretty good," Curry said. "We do have more athletic people defensively (than last year), our linebackers and our secondary run a lot faster than they did a year ago."
The 41-7 final is the same score by which Georgia State defeated Shorter University in its inaugural game in 2010, also in the Georgia Dome.
The Panthers will host Old Dominion next Saturday, Sept. 10, at 12 p.m. in the Dome. ODU defeated the Panthers 34-20 in Norfolk, Va., last season.