ATLANTA--The Georgia State Football program will say goodbye to 20 seniors as the Panthers host Campbell Saturday at 2 p.m. at the Georgia Dome in the final game of the 2011 season.
Of the 20, seven have been part of the program since the Panthers began practice in 2009, including just three players--Brandon Jones, Kevin Thompson and Robert Truitt--who there at the very first team meeting on Aug. 11, 2009. Ben Jacoby arrived just a few days later after transferring from Ball State, and Michael Hall, Deron Jordan and Cliff Ibarrondo joined later that season after tryouts. The remaining 13 seniors joined the team prior to the 2010 inaugural season.
The group of seniors includes 10 current starters - four on the offensive line, two on the defensive line and two linebackers, plus starters at tight end and safety.
Head coach Bill Curry really wants to send this group off on a positive note so the Panthers can begin to put a disappointing season behind them.
"Our challenge is to end the season with dignity and to finally play a complete game," said Curry at his weekly press conference. "That's our challenge to our squad. The only thing we have left in a moment like this is to suck it up and be a team. We need to finish the job with the knowledge that we have an enormous amount of work to do, which will begin the day after this season ends.
"At the same time, it's Senior Day and we deeply appreciate this group of seniors," Curry continued. "They came here as an act of faith. When they came here, they didn't know if we were going to have a practice field or a locker room. They came here and gave us tremendous effort and we'd like to send them out on a positive note."
Georgia State (2-8) looks to turn the tide on a string three straight close losses, in which the game turned on one or two plays in the fourth quarter.
The Panthers have suffered three straight heart-breaking defeats, including last Saturday's 30-23 loss at West Alabama, in which GSU had moved inside the UWA 20-yard line in the final minute with a chance for the tying score before fumbling to end the game. Before that, the Panthers had dropped consecutive overtime games in which they had led in the fourth quarter. The three straight losses have been by a combined 13 points.
"The last four games have come down to one play," said Curry, whose squad defeated South Alabama in overtime on Oct. 22 before dropping its next three. "Three of them were in overtime. It's an incredible run of ineffectiveness on our part. The season could be very different if we had made one play. A lot of that has to do with confidence and knowing exactly what we're going to do and believing that we can do it. We'll keep on working this week. We want to finish the season with a win against Campbell in our stadium and use that to launch into our off-season program."
Campbell (6-4) had a school-record five-game winning streak snapped with a 34-31 loss at Valparaiso last Saturday. Like Georgia State, Campbell is a relative newcomer to football after resurrecting a long-dormant program in 2008. This year's six victories are the most in the Camels' modern era.
The Camels rely on a strong rushing attach that averages 222.7 yards per game on the ground. The team's top two running backs, Carl Smith and C.J. Oates, have combined for nearly 1,200 yards rushing. Smith has 678 yards and six touchdowns, while Oates adds 502 yards and five scores. Fullback Jordan Cramer has scored 12 touchdowns while rushing for 403 yards.
"They are big and physical and move the ball well," said Curry. "They want to run it down your throat, but they have the ability to throw the ball, too.
Quarterback Braden Smith has passed for 1,715 yards with 13 touchdowns and just six interceptions, and he spreads the ball to seven different receivers who have 10 or more catches. Smith has also gained 245 yards rushing and scored seven touchdowns on the ground.
The Camels average 34.4 points per game while allowing 28.2.
Campbell and Georgia State are meeting for the second straight year. On Sept. 25, 2010, in the first road game in GSU history, the Panthers defeated Campbell, 24-21, on Iain Vance's 30-yard field goal with one second left. Vance's field goal capped a 10-play, 63-yard drive after the Camels had tied the game with a touchdown with 3:14 to play.
"We played Campbell a year ago in one of the most memorable moments since we started the program," said Curry. "It was our first road trip and literally the first time some of our players had been on an airplane. We managed to make a drive at the end of the game and kick a field goal to win. That was the start of a very good attitude on our team about fourth quarters, which prevailed through the entire year. We didn't get that done this year, and that's all too obvious."
Making this week's task more difficult for Georgia State is a rash of injuries at the running back position. Parris Lee (knee) and Travis Evans (elbow) were both injured on the same drive against West Alabama and are out this week. Starter and leading rusher Donald Russell (ankle), injured a week earlier, was limited to just one carry against UWA, but Curry hopes he will be able to play this week, along with junior Malcolm Smith.
To add depth, sophomore Nate Anthony has moved from cornerback to running back for this game.
"We moved Nate Anthony from corner to running back, which is what he played in high school," said Curry. "He was a wide receiver for us up until last spring, so he knows the offensive system. He's an excellent contributor on special teams and he has his heart in it. It's been a really bizarre year for our centers and our running backs."