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Georgia State opening Sun Belt play in its first game raises interesting question for Cajuns

It’s an interesting comparison.

Exactly which team has the best chance of gaining an edge over the opposition when the No. 19-ranked UL Ragin’ Cajuns square off with Georgia State at 11 a.m. Saturday in Atlanta?

On one hand, you’ve got the Cajuns with one game under their belt. And what a game it was, knocking off No. 23 Iowa State on the road for the first road win over a Top 25 club in school history.

Perhaps it created a bit of a shock value for the Panthers, who were likely viewing the upset on ESPN.

If nothing else, coach Shawn Elliott’s Panthers were motivated by watching the Cajuns pull off the big upset for the Sun Belt. It’ll be the second straight league team to visit Georgia State, finishing up with Appalachian state last season.

“That’s a big-time feeling,” Elliott said of hosting a Top 25 conference opponent.

That game, however, also gave Georgia State’s coaches plenty of film to watch on UL, especially the 15 newcomers that got into the game against Iowa State.

On the other hand, this is Georgia State’s first game of the season. UL’s coaches only have last year’s film against other foes to dissect in preparing for Saturday’s Sun Belt Conference opener. The two schools didn’t even play last season.

That’s just how it is in 2020.

Originally, the Panthers were scheduled to play Murray State and then be coming off a road trip to Alabama, before the coronavirus sent many schools’ schedules to the shop for reconstruction.

So which staff is in a bigger hole preparation-wise with this comparison in mind?

“All of those things are part of the variables in this game,” UL coach Billy Napier said.

“Much like our opener against Iowa State, this is an opener for us because we’ve got no history this year of the personnel or offseason wrinkles that maybe they can add into their scheme,” Napier said. “It’ll be an in-game adjustment. Those things will be important, because I’m certain they’ll have a few sliders and curve balls that they’ll be mixing in there.”

Along that line anyway, the good news for UL is Georgia State returns eight starters on both sides of the ball, so personnel shouldn’t be drastically different.

And while the Panthers will be starting a redshirt freshman quarterback in Cornelious Brown IV, he did throw 28 passes in four games last season, so there’s some film on him.

By the way, Brown is listed at 6-5, 200 pounds and has the ability to run and throw it.

Still, it’s hard to believe he would present more difficulties than Iowa State junior quarterback Brock Purdy, who also did damage with his legs and arm.

Even before his preparation for this game began, Napier knew a few things about Georgia State he knows will make it a tough trip.

One, the Panthers were 5-1 in their brand new venue – Center Parc Stadium – on the site of the Braves’ former baseball field, and that only loss was to Appalachian State.

And two, Elliott’s teams have displayed a grittiness in the past.

“I do have a lot of respect for Shawn and the job he’s done at Georgia State,” Napier said. “People don’t realize how far that program has come – where they started from and what they’ve built. I thought last year in particular, they were one of the more improved teams in our league. Up until the quarterback got injured, they were a contender and a factor on the east side.

“Shawn’s teams always play really hard. I have a lot of respect for the intangibles that you see on the film. They’ve got lots of veteran players coming back. At almost every position on offense and defense, there’s experience.”

But while the matchup matters, like many coaching staffs, Napier is focused more on his team’s improvement from game one to two.

That’s the real argument that UL having played last Saturday could be a bigger advantage. Theoretically, those pesky first-game jitters and potential sloppiness should belong to the Panthers.

Sometimes playing another team reveals issues about your team that didn’t show up as glaringly during training camp. If so, Iowa State made those clear.

“We tend to say it’s about us,” Napier said. “It’s about our effort, our attitude, our fundamentals, our communication – the details that we play with in terms of our execution.

“Like I mentioned before, although we won the game and we’re all excited that we won, when you go really comb through the film, there are flaws and there are things that we’ve got to get corrected. There are a number of veterans that need to be play better and we’ve got a lot of young players that need to continue to develop and get better at their role.”

All lessons 0-0 Georgia State may not have learned yet.

Meanwhile, the Panthers are hoping they have just enough mystery cards in their back pocket to pull off another Sun Belt Top 25 upset.

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