Only nine weeks remain before the Auburn football team kicks off the start of the season. While the Tigers prepare for action, let’s take a look at the schedule that lays before them.
After the Tigers return from a tough road game against Penn State, which The Villager previewed last week, they will return to Jordan-Hare Stadium for the Homecoming game against Georgia State. It will be the first time in program history the two teams have ever faced each other in football.
Hailing from the Sun Belt Conference and led by head coach Shawn Elliott, the Panthers will be looking to pull off a miracle and upset the Tigers on Homecoming night. Georgia State is coming off of a 6-4 record in 2020, having fallen to Louisiana in overtime, Arkansas State, Coastal Carolina, and Appalachian State with wins over East Carolina, Troy, University of Louisiana Monroe, South Alabama, Georgia Southern, and a LendingTree Bowl win over Western Kentucky. Their games over Murray State and Alabama were cancelled.
The Panthers’ offense in 2021 will be loaded with plenty of experience to go around. After averaging 33.3 points per game last season, Georgia State brings back all five of its starting offensive linemen, the starting quarterback, leading rusher, and top 10 receivers from 2020.
The offense will be commanded by the 6-5, 200-pound Cornelious Brown. Brown threw for 2,278 yards and 10 touchdowns last season while rushing for an additional 301 yards and seven touchdowns. His primary problem was his accuracy as he ended up throwing 10 interceptions throughout the year.
Alongside Brown will be senior Destin Coates, who led the Panthers with 769 yards rushing for seven touchdowns in 2020.
On defense, Georgia State fielded the best unit in the Sun Belt Conference, and one of the best teams in the nation at getting to the quarterback. It will be a great test for the Auburn offensive line early in the season to see how much they have improved against the pass rush.
The problem for the Panthers is that they will lose three of their top defensive players. Their 2020 sack leader, Jordan Strachan, transferred to South Carolina and their leading tackler, Trajan Stephens-McQueen, graduated.
However, the Panthers will retain all-star end Hardrick Willis but the linebacking core will be the main concern of the Panthers in 2021. The secondary was solid in 2020 and returns all the key components in 2021, but there needs to be more consistency to take down a program with talent like Auburn.
The key player on offense will be Brown, and on defense it will be cornerback Quavian White. The senior has 129 tackles in his career along with six interceptions.
Joining him on defense will be linebacker Shamar McCollum. McCollum is 6-4, 235 pounds and hails from Wake Forest, where he made 24 tackles and had two sacks last season. With the Panthers’ linebacking corps so depleted, he will likely be counted on to make an instant impact.
For the Georgia State offense to have a successful game against Auburn, much less the season, they need to get turnovers figured out. While the Panthers only lost the turnover margin twice, it was in no thanks to the offense. Georgia State gave the ball away 20 times over the course of 10 games so expect the Auburn defense to be licking their chops during this game.
On defense, Georgia State must be able to stop the run. They may have led the Sun Belt in sacks, but a good pass rush is no good if you cannot prevent a team from running all over you. With Auburn’s strength this season more than likely being based on the run, expect the Tigers to look to take full advantage of this weakness.
The Panthers are led by head coach Shawn Elliott, who is in his fifth year as head coach. Over his half-decade with Georgia State, he has led the Panthers to a 22-25 record with an Arizona Bowl appearance as well as Cure and LendingTree Bowl wins.
Elliott began his coaching career at his alma mater, Appalachian State, where he served as the offensive line coach. He then was hired as the offensive coordinator at South Carolina in 2012 where he served until 2015. In 2015, then-head coach Steve Spurrier resigned in October, and Elliott was promoted to interim head coach to finish the season.
Elliott went 1-5 in his time as interim head coach and was asked to come back as the offensive line coach under new head coach Will Muschamp. The following year he accepted the position of head coach at Georgia State, becoming just the third head coach of the program.
Georgia State will be a good game for the Tigers to tune up after what is expected to be a tight Penn State game and before SEC play begins. With Auburn’s expected strength on offense to be in the running game, expect Tank Bigsby and Shaun Shivers to have a field day while Auburn’s defense works on forcing turnovers.
Editor's note: A previous version of this story misspelled Shawn Elliott's name. We regret the error.