ATLANTA--As Georgia State prepares for Saturday's game at No. 9/10 ranked James Madison, the Panthers must be ready to face what head coach Bill Curry describes as "the most physical team we've seen."
Georgia State is now 1-7 after last Saturday's 49-24 loss to No. 24 Villanova. After climbing to No. 2 in the FCS national rankings last week, JMU (5-2, 3-1 CAA) is now at No. 9 by the Sports Network and No. 10 in the FCS Coaches Poll following their 35-29 loss at Richmond. The Dukes are one of four teams atop the CAA standings with just one loss.
James Madison will be Georgia State's third ranked opponent in four weeks, following New Hampshire and Villanova. Next week's opponent, Old Dominion, is also ranked in the Top 10 of both polls.
"What we have to do next is to play our best against one of these outstanding teams," said Curry at his weekly press conference. "When we come up against the better opponents, we haven't played the best that we can play. When we play as well as we are capable of playing, and we do not turn the ball over, we are dangerous. It may sound absurd when you look at our scores, but I've been here before. What we need to do is have enough confidence to start a game that way against a quality opponent and then do all four quarters."
In evaluating JMU's personnel, Curry noted their middle linebacker Stephon Robertson, who leads the team with 65 tackles, four tackles for loss and five pass breakups, and offensive guard Earl Watford, a preseason All-America with NFL potential.
In their loss to Richmond, the Dukes trailed 35-16 with under seven minutes to play when true freshman quarterback Michael Birdsong, who replaced starter Justin Thorpe, led JMU to a pair of late touchdowns. Birdsong is expected to start this week against Georgia State.
Georgia State suffered a severe blow with the loss of leading rusher Donald Russell to a knee injury, which adds to an already lengthy injury list, particularly on the defensive line, but Curry refuses to make excuses.
"You can't lie, you can't say that you love this stuff - no, we don't like the fact that Donald's out. We don't like the fact that we have a patchwork defensive line," he said. "What we say is, so do a lot of other teams across the country. The ones that don't make excuses, the ones that suck it up, the ones that hit the weight room, the ones that get their pads down, that run to the football - it's a funny thing what happens, they win some games.
"Two years ago we had a Super Bowl champion that had the most players in the league on IR (injured reserve)- the Green Bay Packers lost more people to the injured reserve list than any other team in the league. They just kept winning. So you find a way, and the response is you're not the Green Bay Packers and you're exactly right, but we are a football team. We're trying to build an attitude here about how we're going to handle adversity, and I hope the men are learning from this and paying attention."
"I'm so proud of Rosevelt," said Curry. "He tore his knee to pieces, and I tried to encourage him to take a medical this year. He's a really tough person. I've done that rehab, and he didn't have to do it. He did it even though he might not have much chance to play, knowing Donald [Russell] was the man. And now he has his chance to play."