ATLANTA — It’s Homecoming week at Georgia State, and the Panthers host Arkansas State Saturday at 2 p.m. at the Georgia Dome.
The Panthers (1-4, 0-2 Sun Belt) are coming off another close loss in the Sun Belt Conference after falling 34-31 at UL Lafayette. Georgia State scored a touchdown with 6:35 left to take a 31-28 lead but could not hold off the league’s preseason favorite as the Ragin’ Cajuns scored the game-winning with 3:34 to play.
Arkansas State, a 28-14 winner over UL Monroe, is 3-2 overall, 1-0 in the Sun Belt, with their losses coming at Tennessee and at Miami.
Georgia State quarterback Nick Arbuckle leads the Sun Belt in total offense (326.6 ypg), while ranking second in passing yards (318.2 ypg) and pass efficiency (142.7). As a team, the Panthers lead the league in passing offense (eighth in NCAA) and are third in scoring (30.2) and total offense (456.8). Georgia State also averages 127.8 yards rushing per game.
Arbuckle’s top targets include wide receivers Robert Davis (20 receptions, 242 yards, 1 TD), LynQuez Blair (19 receptions, 254 yards, 3 TD) and Donovan Harden (17 receptions, 249 yards, 1 TD) and tight end Joel Ruiz (15 receptions, 223, yards, 2 TD). Ruiz is first nationally among tight ends in receiving yards per game (74.5) and fourth in receptions per game (4.8). Cornerback convert Marcus Caffey has given the running game a boost after rushing for 90 yards and three touchdowns against ULL in his debut on offense.
Linebacker Joseph Peterson leads the Georgia State defense, averaging 12.4 tackles per game to rank second in the Sun Belt and sixth nationally. He is GSU’s career tackling leader with 230. Outside linebacker Jarrell Robinson is second in the the league with seven tackles for loss.
Junior kicker Wil Lutz is Georgia State’s career leader in field goals (16) and points by kicking (111).
Georgia State is playing its second straight game against a 2013 Sun Belt bowl team. The Red Wolves feature quarterback Fredi Knighten, who has thrown four touchdown passes and rushed for six more; he averages 263.2 yards of total offense. Arkansas State leads the league in rushing defense (123.4 ypg) and ranks third in total defense (378.4) and scoring defense, allowing 22.6 points per game.
Blake Anderson is Arkansas State’s fifth head coach in five years, but the Red Wolves have won or shared the Sun Belt title the last three years.
Georgia State is 2-2 in its previous Homecoming games.
GAME COVERAGE: Television coverage is on ESPN3. Announcers are Matt Stewart and Wayne Gandy. Every Georgia State game this season will be televised, including every Sun Belt Conference game on one of the ESPN platforms.
Radio coverage is available on the Grady Health System Georgia State Radio Network, including Atlanta flagship 1340 The Fan 3 as well as Georgia State’s WRAS-FM 88.5. Dave Cohen is in his 32nd season as the play-by-play voice of Panther athletics, while Harper LeBel and Brandon Leak join him from the booth, and Sam Crenshaw adds sideline coverage.
GEORGIA STATE VS. ARKANSAS STATE: Georgia State fell 35-33 in last year’s game at Arkansas State, but the Panthers had a chance to tie the game in the final minutes. Kelton Hill’s 70-yard touchdown pass to Albert Wilson pulled Georgia State within two points with two minutes left, but the Panthers’ try for a game-tying two-point conversion failed. Georgia State led 17-7 at the half and outgained the Red Wolves 432-290, but the Panthers hurt themselves with four turnovers and a blocked punt, which led directly to 21 points for Arkansas State, which went on to earn a share of the Sun Belt title and win its bowl game.
CAFFEY SETS RECORDS IN FIRST GAME AT RUNNING BACK: With injuries thinning the ranks at running back, Marcus Caffey moved from cornerback to running back prior to the UL Lafayette game and had an impressive debut on offense. Carrying the ball a school-record 27 times, Caffey rushed for 90 yards and three touchdowns, also a Georgia State record. He scored on runs of 12, one and two yards.
The Panthers lost both Kyler Neal and Jonathan Jean-Bart to season-ending knee injuries against Washington, so Caffey made the move after starting the first four games at cornerback. A transfer from Iowa Western Community College, the 6-0, 195-pound Caffey originally signed with Kentucky as a running back after an all-state career at Atlanta’s Grady High School. He rushed for 1,600 yards and 17 touchdowns as a senior, earned second-team all-state accolades in Class AAA and was rated among the nation’s top 50 running backs by Rivals and Scout.com.
LUTZ HONORED BY SUN BELT: Placekicker/punter Wil Lutz was named Sun Belt Conference Special Teams Player of the Week after his performance against UL Lafayette, whe ne became the Panthers’ career leader in field goals and successfully executed a fake punt.
A junior from Newnan, Ga., Lutz hit just one field goal against the Ragin’ Cajuns, but it was from 48 yards, the third-longest in Georgia State history. It was also the 16th of his career for the GSU school record. Lutz’s field goal came on the final play of the first half and sent the Panthers into the locker room with a 17-14 lead.
Starting at punter for the first time in his career, Lutz punted three times for a 38.0-yard average, but it was the time he didn’t punt that really made a difference for the Panthers. With Georgia State punting on 4th-and-11 from its own 19-yard line, Lutz was attempting a rugby-style punt when he took off down the right sideline and gained 26 yards for the first down. Lutz’s play helped lead to the Panthers’ first touchdown of the game. He also averaged 64.2 yards on five kickoffs with two touchbacks.
Lutz is the second Panther to be honored with a Sun Belt weekly award, along with quarterback Nick Arbuckle after the Air Force game.
TWO CLOSE LOSSES IN SUN BELT PLAY: Georgia State has opened Sun Belt Conference play with a pair of heart-breaking losses in which the Panthers took the lead late before falling.
In Saturday’s 34-31 loss at UL Lafayette, the lead changed hands five times in the second half. Georgia State took a 31-28 lead on Marcus Caffey’s two-yard touchdown run with 6:35 to play, but ULL answered with a touchdown with 3:34 to play. The Panthers
Against New Mexico State, the Panthers drove 86 yards on 13 plays, capped by Arbuckle’s one-yard touchdown run on fourth down that gave Georgia State a 31-27 lead with 2:30 left. But New Mexico State answered with a touchdown pass with just 15 seconds left for the 34-31 victory.