2020 Game 2 Preview: Charlotte
Cornerback Quavian White lines up during the 2019 contest versus Appalachian State. White’s impressive performance last week against #19 Louisiana (1 INT, 7 tackles, 2 passes defended) played a central role in what looks to be a marked improvement in the Panthers’ defensive efforts. Photo: Jordan Crawford for THERSdayNight.com
After their first two non-conference games of the 2020 season were canceled due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Georgia State Panthers (0-1, 0-1 in Sun Belt) will get their truncated non-conference slate started Saturday as they head up to Jerry Richardson Stadium to face the Charlotte 49ers (0-1, 0-0 in C-USA).
The Panthers are looking to bounce back after dropping their season opener at home to the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns, while Charlotte are looking to pick up their first win of the season after losing to the Appalachian State Mountaineers. The 49ers had their game against the UNC Tar Heels cancelled last week due to a positive Covid-19 result and the resulting contact tracing that left them without enough offensive linemen to field a team, but all systems are a go this week for Charlotte to continue their season.
Charlotte entered the 2020 season with a few key departures from an offense that was tops in Conference USA at running the football and fourth in the conference in offensive output. Offensive coordinator Alex Atkins was poached by Florida State to coach the offensive line and former quarterbacks coach Mark Carney was promoted to fill Atkins’s vacated spot. The 49ers only return two starters on the offensive line, center Jaelin Fisher and left tackle D’mitri Emmanuel. They will also need to replace the production of graduating lead rusher Benny LeMay. They benefit from consistency at the quarterback position, as redshirt junior Chris Reynolds remains the 49ers starting QB. His 2,564 passing yards and 767 rushing yards were a huge reason for the 49ers’ success in 2019.
On defense, the 49ers have to deal with some important losses on the defensive line and in the linebacking corps, but there are enough reinforcements returning from injury or that have transferred in to soften the blow. Grad transfer Siah Sa’o and backup Timmy Horne make up a formidable pass rushing attack, and the return of safety Ben DeLuca should anchor a 49ers defense that wants to improve their boom or bust tendencies from a year ago. In 2019, they went 0-5 when they allowed more than 200 rushing yards in a game and 7-1 when they held teams under 200 rushing yards.
Not much can be taken from the 49ers’ first game against the Mountaineers, as it took place during a strong rainstorm. This likely impacted the play of Reynolds and forced the 49ers to abandon much of a passing attack. Reynolds completed 11 of his 30 passes, only mustering 177 total yards from scrimmage against App State. Defensively, the 49ers struggled to contain running backs Marcus Williams Jr and Camerun Peoples, each rushing for over 100 yards. Even through the wet conditions, App State QB Zac Thomas was able to complete 14 of his 21 pass attempts, throwing for over 200 yards. Most of those yards went to Thomas Hennigan, who easily and frequently found space behind the 49ers’ secondary. Had the 49ers’ defense not secured three turnovers, the score could have ended up much worse than it was.
If there is an opportunity for the Georgia State offense to be successful, it will come on the strength of their ground game. Lead RB Destin Coates set a career high for rushing yards against Louisiana and will look to continue his strong start to the 2020 campaign. The Panthers as a team rushed for over 200 yards in their first game, and a repeat of that will take pressure off Quad Brown. Brown will need to improve his deep ball accuracy to prevent the 49ers from keying in on a one-dimensional Panther offense. Protecting the ball will also be important. Although Georgia State split the turnover battle against the Ragin Cajuns, Charlotte are just as much of ballhawks. It remains to be seen how much Tucker Gregg will be involved after his fumble last week, but if he holds onto the ball, his use – and the use of true freshman Marcus Carroll – will help spell Coates when he needs a rest.
Defensively, the Panthers can carry over many things from their season opener that will be important against the 49ers. Reynolds is just as capable a runner as Louisiana’s Levi Lewis was, so maintaining strong tackling discipline will be important. The 49ers struggled to run the ball on a wet field and against a good defense, but if the step forward for the Panthers’ defense is to be believed, they will need to slow down the 49ers’ ground game. Holding the 49ers running backs on early downs, and getting off the field on third down will do just that. The 49ers were only 4 of 14 on third down against the Mountaineers, so if the defense continues to make plays and get off the field, it could be a long day for the 49ers’ offense. In the event the Panther offense is not capable of holding onto the ball, a few defensive turnovers will help keep the 49ers in check.
These two teams are both hungry to pick up their first win of the season and there is plenty of reason to believe Georgia State can be the ones to come out on top. If the Panthers maintain what worked on both sides of the ball against Louisiana and if Quad and his receivers can link up from the start, they should be able to handle business on the road against Charlotte. The road to bowl eligibility gets tougher with a loss Saturday, so if Georgia State has postseason aspirations, this is a game they will need to pick up. Kick-off from Charlotte goes at 12pm EDT and the game can be seen live nationally on ESPNU.