Behind Enemy Lines with John Whittle of The Big Spur

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(Photo: Streeter Lecka, Getty)

Georgia State Football travels Saturday night to take on the University of South Carolina to kick off the 2022 season with both programs looking forward to significant expectations this fall. We caught up John Whittle from our sister site 247Sports The Big Spur to give us a preview of the game.

PantherTalk: There’s a lot of story in this game, including Coach Shawn Elliotis back in South Carolina, Linebacker Jordan Strachan facing his former team as well as Quarterback spencer ratterThe beginnings of Gamecock. What are the things that caught your attention the most this week and what are you looking forward to on Saturday?

JW: Despite comments from Antwane Wells, it certainly sounds like South Carolina is taking Georgia State very seriously. Coaches and players said not to confuse Georgia State with Eastern Illinois, the team the Gamecocks opened up against and fought against last year. It also helps keep the focus on the fact that some of the Panthers’ strengths were Gamecocks’ weaknesses last season.

What’s also notable is how healthy the Gamecocks have been this season. They were able to avoid major injuries during the pre-season, and only one important player is out for this particular game.

PantherTalk: This week we saw a healthy mix of optimism and concern from Gamecock fans. Where do you land in this match before entering the game?

JW: I think both of those things are right. There is certainly optimism about the momentum of the program at this time. Recruitment is going well but more importantly this roster has been revamped from last year and better players have arrived. Not that it’s much different from all the other schools, but the reports from the pre-season camp have been very positive, and there should be reason for optimism in Colombia.

But there’s also cause for concern, because Georgia State has always been good and played well against SEC teams and upset Tennessee. The Panthers were a good team last year and bring back a bunch of these guys. Plenty of room for optimism and trepidation with this one. It should be a good game.

PantherTalk: The offseason focus seemed to focus on spencer ratter and for good reason since he’s a great caller but who are the guys you’re looking for for this Offense to step forward from 2021?

JW: The wide receiver and tight end positions as a whole. Corey Rucker came out, but Antwane Wells is ready to rock. Josh Vann was one of the best receivers in the league last year, and both Ahmar Brown and Xavier Legette are ready to take a big step forward. Having a quarterback to give them the ball certainly helps. But there are four tight ends, highlighted by Bell of Jaheim, who are also ready for action. The offensive line is old and they need to do better than a year ago. Rattler should help that too, to be honest, because there was so much misunderstanding last year and quarterbacks didn’t always make the right choices.

PantherTalk: Defensively, Gamecock’s top seven have struggled a bit to stop the run in 2021. What changes have you seen under the new defensive coordinator Clayton White?

JW: It’s the first time in four years that South Carolina has the same defensive line coach, and that should make a difference. It helps that players are a year older, and there are some personnel changes with a pair of new starters who have been the best against the run. It also helps that the position of the linebacker has also changed. More technically, the feedback from this pre-season was that too often last year, players came out of their loopholes and in the wrong places. This, of course, must change.

PantherTalk: There should be a solid crowd of GSU fans making the trip north from Atlanta. What are the best pre-game things to do around the stadium and things to do/see around Columbia on game day?

JW: In terms of tourism, there is not much around the Williams-Brice stadium to experience that is not related to football. There are great and welcoming people, and there will be live music and radio broadcasts before the match in Gamecock Park, which is directly opposite the stadium. This is also where the Gamecock Walk takes place, 2h15 before kick-off. To experience game day in South Carolina, line up for the Gamecock Walk, find the george roger statue and learn about the Cockaboose Railroad.

Thanks to John for joining us today to preview the game and check out his great work at The Big Spur!

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