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COLLEGE FOOTBALL: Georgia State quarterbacks, defense have solid moments in spring game
Dan Ellington
Georgia State quarterback Dan Ellington surveys the field as he prepares to launch a pass during the Panthers' Saturday spring football game. -photo by Matthew Grimes
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ATLANTA — At halftime, along with three of his other teammates, the Georgia State football team presented quarterback, Dan Ellington with an honor commemorating his performance last season. Ellington was awarded the most valuable offensive player on the Panthers’ team for the 2017- 2018 season.

In the Panthers’ Saturday spring scrimmage, however, where the White team dominated the Blue team for a 54-33 win, it was redshirt sophomore Jack Walker who looked the part as a starting quarterback for Georgia State.

The game for Ellington started with a bit of a scare. On just his second snap, Ellington limped off the field after hyperextending his knee as the defensive line closed in on him.  Head coach Shawn Elliot — jokingly, but with a twinge of truth — said he was prepared to call the whole affair off if he was alerted to a more severe injury.

“I said if some reason if somebody walks up here and tells me he tore his ACL, I’m fixing to disappoint a lot of people and shut this thing down real quick, but that wasn’t the case,” Elliot said. “He came back out there and did fine. “Dan is a good leader for us, and he’s got to lead us offensively and lead our football team, and I think he’s got every capability of being  a very high-level player.”

With Ellington on the sidelines for a while, Walker, who is also competing for the starting QB job, showed levels of poise and control over the offense. The 6-foot-3 prospect from Madison, Mississippi did enough during his snaps to show that he won’t be conceding the job to the incumbent so easily.

Walker showed an ability to read through progressions behind his offensive line to make timely throws and also make plays with his legs when the defense got behind him. Elliot has seen his improvement through spring practice but believes there is another level he can reach.

“I think Walker is improved, Elliot said. “His last four or five practices were much better than the first eight [or] 10. He’s really come on. I told him he’s got to get better at the intermediate throws. I think when he delivers the ball downfield, he does a fine job with it, sometimes he rushes those shorter throws, and they don’t come off the hand or the arm so well.

“Another thing, [Walker] has to develop leadership, a strong mentality and a strong voice that can carry us on.”

Walker had a 15-yard touchdown pass to tight-end Herman McCrary, and one 75-yard catch-and-run score to wide receiver Terrance Dixon, who had two scores total on the afternoon. 

If not for an offensive holding call, Walker would have a third scoring toss on an incredible 85-yard effort by redshirt senior Christian Owens.

As for Ellington, neither the signal caller or his coach will admit to a hyperextended knee hindering his performance in any way. But during the game, the inconsistencies from him were admittedly stark.

“I had a couple missed assignments. I’ll probably go watch the film and see how I did,” Ellington said when asked about his performance.

It was clear that the focus was to keep the athletic quarterback in the pocket as much as they could and allow him to make plays behind an offensive line that had a promising afternoon.

“I thought I got out of the pocket a little too much last year,” Ellington said. “[I have to] just trust my offensive line more and just go out there and play and have fun.”

Georgia State’s offense showed signs of how they want to continue to attack defenses next season: with the same quick decision-making and multiple no-huddle sets as has been a staple in the three seasons under Elliot.

The intention was obviously to make the defense have to second-guess themselves, and the offense looked to capitalize on those mistakes. The offense took advantage of the defense early, but in the second quarter they seemed to adjust, and soon the Panther offense struggled a bit against Brad Lawing’s re-tooled defensive line.

Georgia State’s defense was able to grab two interceptions, several sacks, and even more tackles for loss. Elliot showed much enthusiasm when talking about his defense’s performance in the scrimmage.

“Are you kidding me? If you’re any head coach, they want to see a defense that goes out there and have three-and-outs, creating turnovers and interceptions,” Elliot said. “Ultimately that’s the name of the game, so I was very, very pleased. Every single day, other than maybe one day out of spring, our defense has really brought it.”

Georgia State will open its season on August 31 at Tennessee, a game Ellington can’t wait to participate in.

“As always our focus right now is on Tennessee,” Ellington said. “Don’t be shocked when we beat them, that’s all I got to say. I think we have a real good chance of beating them, so it’s going be a great year for us. I just feel it.”