Georgia State running back Donald Russell was named the Colonial Athletic Association’s offensive player of the week following his school-record 201 rushing yards in Saturday’s 41-7 victory over Rhode Island.
Russell scored touchdowns on runs of 45 and 6 yards and caught a 35-yard touchdown pass for a school-record 236 all-purpose yards.
Coach Bill Curry said one of the keys to Russell’s big day was the wide receivers did a better job blocking for him downfield. Curry said the Panthers also blocked a little big differently because of Rhode Island’s schemes.
“Donald’s been running the ball well all year,” Curry said.
Curry said Russell should have had another long run but wide receiver Albert Wilson missed a block.
Russell is the first player in the CAA this season to rush for more than 200 yards and first player in school history to score three touchdowns. He has 743 rushing yards this season and 1,408 in his GSU career.
He leads the conference with an average of 106.1 yards per game.
“He’s very talented, very durable,” Rhode Island coach Joe Trainer said. “We just couldn’t tackle him.”
Russell, a senior from West Palm Beach, Fla., is the second Georgia State player to earn a weekly honor from the CAA, joining punter Matt Hubbard who earned special teams honors earlier this season.
The Panthers will host Villanova at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at the Georgia Dome.
Curry promised his team that if they didn’t turn over the ball, and if they created a couple, they would defeat the Rams.
On offense, the Panthers didn’t throw any interceptions or lose any fumbles for the first time this season. On defense, the Panthers had an interception and recovered a fumble.
“We were pleased to see some progress,” he said.
Curry said the team should have created a few more turnovers. He noted an interception that likely would have resulted in a touchdown was dropped. And the Panthers caused a fumble on a punt return that they couldn’t recover.
That inability to capitalize on mistakes is an issue that’s negatively affected the team all season.
“There’s a certain alertness that you have to … when you have a chance to create a turnover you have to do it,” Curry said.
Ben McLane will likely remain the starting quarterback this week based upon his play against Rhode Island, Curry said. McLane, a redshirt freshman, started the first four games before Ronnie Bell, also a redshirt freshman, won the job. McLane won the starting job again last week.
McLane completed 14 of his 25 pass attempts for a career-high 213 yards with two touchdowns, one to Russell and one to Travis Evans.
Curry said McLane’s improvement can be traced to an offensive line that didn’t allow a sack.
Curry also noted that McLane played with confidence, making some “beautiful throws.
“He threw very well on (short) throws that look easy but aren’t easy,” Curry said. “He did some sophisticated things, the things that he hasn’t done well in previous games. It’s a matter of maturity. It’s a logical progression of improvement.”
Curry said that when Bell played in the fourth quarter he also showed a lot of progress.
McLane is 71-of-140 with six touchdowns and four interceptions this year.
Curry said he and his coaches will now try to channel the positive energy from the season’s first victory into this week’s game against Villanova, a much tougher opponent than Rhode Island.
The Wildcats demolished previously unbeaten Old Dominion 38-14 last week in Norfolk by rushing for 376 yards and scoring 38 unanswered points.
“The (playeres) aren’t blind, they can see it’ll be a much tougher task about Villanova,” Curry said. “It’s exciting to get ourselves ready against this caliber of competition.”
The Panthers are allowing 212.7 rushing yards per game, while the Wildcats, led by Kevin Monangai (94.4 rushing yards per game) and quarterback John Robertson (84.6), are averaging 258.6.
“They just keep pounding the ball,” Curry said. “They run the clock and wear down the defense and eventually prevail. It’s the kind of thing you build championships from.”
– Doug Roberson, AJC. Please follow me on twitter @ajcgsu