ATLANTA — Georgia State enters the final third of its season by playing three straight road games, beginning Saturday at Appalachian State in a 3:30 p.m. ET game at Kidd Brewer Stadium in Boone, N.C.
The Panthers (1-7, 0-5 Sun Belt) look to rebound from a disappointing 69-31 loss to Georgia Southern, while Appalachian State (2-5, 1-2 Sun Belt) is coming off an open date.
The contest features two productive offense. Georgia State is averaging 422.1 yards and 27.5 points per game, while the Mountaineers produce 33.7 point and 455.0 yards an outing.
Georgia State quarterback Nick Arbuckle leads the Sun Belt in passing (309.0 ypg), touchdown passes (16) and total offense (314.2 ypg).
Arbuckle’s top targets include wide receivers Donovan Harden (45 receptions, 707 yards, 7 TD), Robert Davis (38 receptions, 534 yards, 1 TD), and LynQuez Blair (30 receptions, 387 yards, 3 TD) and tight end Joel Ruiz (34 receptions, 445 yards, 3 TD).
After setting school records with 11 receptions for 186 yards and four touchdowns against Georgia Southern, Harden now leads the Sun Belt in touchdowns receiving while ranking second in yards per game (88.4).
Ruiz, named to the Midseason Watch List for the John Mackey Award, ranks second in the nation among all tight ends in receptions (4.9) and receiving yards per game (63.6).
Linebacker Joseph Peterson leads the Georgia State defense, averaging 10.9 tackles per game to rank third in the Sun Belt and 13th nationally. He is GSU’s career tackling leader with 255.
Junior kicker Wil Lutz is Georgia State’s career leader in field goals (18) and points by kicking (125). He ranks among the Sun Belt leaders with 18 touchbacks on kickoffs, and he is averaging 39.2 yards on 15 punts.
The Mountaineers have a balanced attack behind freshman quarterback Taylor Lamb with 227.9 yards rushing and 227.1 yards passing per game.
Appalachian State is Georgia State’s fourth straight Sun Belt opponent to have an open date the week before facing the Panthers. UL Lafayette, South Alabama and Georgia Southern also did not play the week before facing Georgia State. The Panthers’ final two Sun Belt opponents, Troy and Texas State, both play Thursday night games the week before playing Georgia State so they have an extra two days of rest.
GAME COVERAGE: Television coverage is on ESPN3. Announcers are Drew Fellios and Forrest Conoly. 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 Atlanta’s 1230 The Fan 2. 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.
COBB RETURNS TO BOONE: This week’s game will be a homecoming for Georgia State Director of Athletics Charlie Cobb, who spent nine years in the same position at Appalachian State before moving to Atlanta in August.
Georgia State has just one player from the state of North Carolina, true freshman quarterback Emiere Scaife, who is red-shirting, attended Mallard Creek High School in Charlotte.
ARBUCKLE NEARS PASSING MARKS: In his first season at Georgia State, quarterback Nick Arbuckle is nearing several school records in season and career passing categories. The junior college transfer from Pierce (Calif.) College needs just 102 yards passing to break the GSU season record of 2,573 yards, set last season by Ronnie Bell. With three touchdown passes, Arbuckle would break not only the Panther season record (18 by Drew Little, 2010) but also the career mark (18 by Little, 2010-11 and Ronnie Bell, 2012-present).
Passing Yards 2472 2573
Completions 183 190
Total Offense 2514 2686
TDR 18 22
HARDEN’S RECORD-SETTING PERFORMANCE: Junior receiver Donovan Harden enjoyed a remarkable game against Georgia Southern with four touchdown catches and 186 yards receiving, both school records. Harden caught touchdowns of three, 59, 35 and 36 yards to come within one of the Sun Belt Conference record. His 11 receptions tied the Georgia State record.
One game earlier in a three-point loss to South Alabama, Harden had 10 catches for 132 yards and two touchdowns. He caught touchdowns of 44 yards and five yards in the back-and-forth battle and also had a 34-yard reception on third down to the 4-yard line to set up another Georgia State touchdown.
Over the last two games, Harden has 21 catches for 318 yards and six touchdowns.
The transfer from Illinois State, who underwent major knee surgery less than a year ago, is the Panthers’ leading receiver with 45 catches for 707 yards and seven touchdowns, just one shy of the Georgia State season record (8 by Albert Wilson in 2013). Harden leads the Sun Belt in touchdown receptions (11th NCAA) while ranking second in yards per game (88.4) and sixth in receptions (5.6).
THREE CLOSE LOSSES IN SUN BELT PLAY: Three of Georgia State’s Sun Belt Conference losses have been by three points, and in each one, the Panthers rallied to take the lead in the fourth quarter before falling.
Most recently, the Panthers fell 30-27 at South Alabama. In a back-and-forth game with seven lead changes, Georgia State drove 76 yards and scored the go-ahead touchdown on Duvall Smith’s 1-yard run with 9:48 left, but South Alabama answered with the winning touchdown with 4:02 to play. Georgia State moved to the USA 40 on its final drive before the Jaguars held on fourth down and then ran out the clock.
In GSU’s 34-31 loss at UL Lafayette (Oct. 4), the lead changed hands five times in the second half. Georgia State took a 31-28 lead on Marcus Caffey’s 2-yard touchdown run with 6:35 to play, but ULL answered with a touchdown with 3:34 to play. The Panthers had one final chance but had a long gain into ULL territory wiped out by a penalty.
Against New Mexico State, the Panthers drove 86 yards on 13 plays, capped by Arbuckle’s 1-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.
RUIZ ON MACKEY AWARD WATCH LIST: Tight end Joel Ruiz was named to the 2014 John Mackey Award Midseason Watch List, released Oct. 13. The John Mackey Award is given annually to the most outstanding collegiate tight end. He was also named to the Midseason All-Sun Belt first team, announced Oct. 17 by Phil Steele.
Ruiz is SECOND IN THE NATION in both receptions (4.9 per game) and receiving yards (63.6 pg) by a tight end.
The junior from Kingsland, Ga., is Georgia State’s third-leading receiver with 34 catches and three touchdowns in seven games.
Earlier this season, he was honored as the John Mackey Award National Tight End of the Week after catching seven passes for 111 yards and two touchdowns against Abilene Christian in his first game in a Georgia State uniform after transferring from Presbyterian. He added seven catches for 75 yards and a touchdown in the Panthers’ 30-27 loss at South Alabama (Oct. 18) and was an honorable mention selection for the weekly Mackey Award.
Ruiz is the first Georgia State Panther to be recognized on a watch list for one of the major FBS awards.
Receptions Per Game by Tight End
5.3 Jonnu Smith, FIU
4.9 Joel Ruiz, Georgia State
Receiving Yards Per Game by Tight End
68.0 Jean Siffrin, Massachusetts
63.6 Joel Ruiz, Georgia State
TRIO NAMED MIDSEASON ALL-SUN BELT: Tight end Joel Ruiz, linebacker Joseph Peterson and place-kicker Joel Ruiz were named to the Midseason All-Sun Belt first team announced Oct. 17 by Phil Steele.
Ruiz is one of the nation’s top tight ends who ranks fifth in the league in receptions and sixth in receiving yards. Peterson is third in the Sun Belt and 11th nationally with 11.3 tackles per game. Lutz is 5-for-5 on field goals, including a game-winner vs. Abilene Christian, and 24-for-24 on PATs.
DAVIS ENJOYING SOPHOMORE SUCCESS: Sophomore wide receiver Robert Davis, a preseason All-Sun Belt Conference pick by Athlon (third team), is the Panthers’ second-leading receiver with 38 catches for 534 yards and one touchdown.
He opened his second season with a career-high eight receptions for 90 yards. He added four catches for 70 yards against New Mexico State, and then caught his first touchdown of the season at Washington. Davis had four catches for 108 yards at South Alabama.
Davis ranks third in Georgia State history with 82 receptions for 1,245 yards with five touchdowns.
Last year as a true freshman, the 6-3, 198-pounder was the Panthers’ second-leading receiver in 2013 with 44 catches for 711 yards and four touchdowns. Only four freshmen in the nation averaged more receiving yards per game than Davis in 2013, and only eight rookies had more catches. Not bad for a player who was very lightly recruited after playing in a run-oriented offense at Northside-Warner Robins High School, where he caught only 11 passes as a senior.