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Preview, How to Watch: Army opens 2021 season at Georgia State

The Black Knights hope to avenge their defeat against the Panthers in 2019.

NCAA Football: Mercer at Army Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

Army and Georgia State face off for just the second time, with the first matchup going in Georgia State’s favor, 28-21, in 2019 on their home turf. Coming off a 9-3 season through the COVID-19 pandemic, Army returns to Atlanta seeking to even the score.

Offense

In last season’s campaign, with favored starters Jabari Laws and Christian Anderson being limited due to injuries, we got to see a stable of quarterbacks under center — much like Army’s vaunted stable of fullbacks. With Laws and Anderson returning, as well as Tyhier Tyler, Jemel Jones, and Cade Ballard all returning, the Black Knights look pretty stacked with an array of threats they can bring against Georgia State. In terms of rushing threats, Army also returns their top three running backs from the 2020 season in fullbacks Jakobi Buchanan and Anthony Adkins, and slotback Tyrell Robinson. However, sophomore Tyson Riley is listed as the starting fullback heading into Week One.

Georgia State is also coming off a strong showing despite scheduling difficulties due to COVID-19. With a 6-4 record, a bowl victory over Western Kentucky, and owning the 1-0 series advantage over Army, the Panthers have to feel good about their chances on Saturday. What’s even more discomforting for Army fans is that Georgia State returns all 11 starters on offense, including wide receiver Sam Pinckney and tight end Aubrey Payne who accounted for three out of the four Panther touchdowns against the Black Knights in 2019.

Defense

While defensive coordinator Nate Woody and the rest of the Black Knights mourn the departure of Jon Rhattigan to the NFL among other standouts from last season, there’s plenty of talent ready to step up on the Army defense. In fact, all four of Army’s captains are from the defensive corps — Nolan Cockrill (DL), Arik Smith (LB), Cedrik Cunningham (DB), and Marquel Broughton (DB). Smith led the team last season in tackles with 78 total including 3.5 sacks and an interception, and Cunningham, Broughton and Cockrill also were among the team’s defensive leaders last year.

The Panthers return nine starters on defense, and are carrying an array of defensive accolades from the 2020 season. Georgia State finished last season seventh in all of FBS in sacks with 35 (a school record) and eighth in turnovers (21) with 12 interceptions and nine fumble recoveries along with two touchdowns. The Panthers were also remarkably stout against the run last season, allowing opponents just over three yards per rush, or an average of 136.7 yards against rushing per game. However, even the toughest run defenses still struggle against Army’s ground attack.

Things to Consider

As always, it’s really difficult to draw any sort of useful analysis or trends heading into a season opener. Both Army and Georgia State are coming off of successful 2020 seasons despite various challenges and obstacles, and will be looking to build on that success heading into 2021.

One thing of note, is that Army has already started to receive votes in both the AP and Coaches poll, so starting things off with a win could put the Black Knights into the national conversation early on this year.

I’m also curious to see how head coach Jeff Monken utilizes the talent he has at quarterback — there’s plenty of talent on both sides of the ball for Army, but that hasn’t always guaranteed success in the past.

In any case, I’m excited for the return of Army football, and I can’t wait for kickoff on Saturday morning!

How to Watch

Kickoff: 12:00 p.m. (EST) on Saturday, September 4th

Watch: ESPNU — Clay Matvick, Rocky Boiman and Tiffany Blackmon will have the call.

Additionally, the call can be heard for free via the newly-launched Varsity App, developed by Learfield.

Where: Center Parc Stadium – Atlanta, Georgia (formerly known as Turner Field)

Spread: FanDuel has Georgia State favored at -2.5, with the over-under at 51.5.