2020 Game "2" Preview: East Carolina
Nose Guard Dontae Wilson takes the field with the team prior to the 2019 contest versus Furman. Wilson’s four tackles (two for a loss) and a QB hurry in this season’s opener versus Louisiana helped shore up Georgia State’s burgeoning run defense. Photo: Jordan Crawford for THERSdayNight.com
After the disappointing late cancellation of last Saturday’s road matchup against Charlotte – the third cancellation in four schedule games – Georgia State (0-1, 0-1 in Sun Belt) are eager to get the season back on track when they host the Pirates of East Carolina (0-1, 0-1 in AAC) on Saturday afternoon. A week later, the story is the same for the Panthers – they want to right the ship after their heartbreaking opening defeat in overtime to Louisiana two weeks ago. ECU is also coming off a season-opening home loss of their own, falling 51-28 to #11 UCF last Saturday, and so it’ll be two teams hungry to get into the win column for 2020.
Coming out of the loss to Louisiana, the offensive takeaway for the Panthers was the need for a slightly crisper passing game. On the other side, the biggest defensive struggle for ECU in their loss to UCF was their inability to stop the Golden Knight passing attack. UFC quarterback Dillon Gabriel finished the afternoon 32 for 47 for 408 yards and 4 touchdowns, one of which was a game-long 64-yard pitch and catch to WR Jaylon Robinson. In total, the Golden Knights compiled a galling 632 total yards to ECU’s 459. The caveat here is that – as their national ranking suggests – UCF is quite good, so it remains to be seen how much of this was ECU’s struggles and how much was the level of opponent they played. Still, when getting ready for this game, the offensive staff for Georgia State should find ways to test this ECU secondary and give Quad some chances to improve on his intermediate-to-deep passing woes from last game.
All that said, the formula for the Panther offense should be based on a heavy usage of the run game Coach Elliott and Coach Glenn have cultivated over the last two years. While the passing stats stand out (in a bad way) from ECU’s opener, UCF also tallied 224 yards on the ground to the tune of 5.6 yards per carry. If the blocking can continue to create holes and Quad and his entourage of running backs can keep their Game 1 success rolling on the ground, the Panther Express could consign the Pirates to a long afternoon of football.
On defense, Georgia State has a lot to build on, even in defeat, from two Saturdays ago. Aside from a couple of long runs that ultimately decided the fate of the game, the rushing defense – led up front by Jeffery Clark, Dontae Wilson and Hardrick Willis – held firm for much of the game against Louisiana. That paved the way for the defense to keep the Cajuns in third-and-mediums and third-and-longs all afternoon and to ultimately hold them to 3 of 14 on third down conversions. Getting off the field will be imperative for the defense, as Louisiana was able to turn the tide when they held possession for 9:14 of the third quarter and chipped away at what had been a strong defensive effort from the Panthers. Despite their struggles overall against UCF, ECU actually held onto the ball for over 33 minutes last Saturday and converted 9 of 18 third downs. If given the chance, the Pirates could work the clock and keep the ball out of Quad’s hands.
In something of a statistical anomaly, Georgia State will start their season facing two straight left-handed quarterbacks. Following on from Louisiana’s Levi Lewis, junior southpaw Holton Ahlers takes the reins of the ECU offense. Ahlers was able to pick up some yardage of his own on the ground – 76 rushing yards gained, but just 55 yards net when factoring in sack yards – but he threw for just 215 yards at a clip of 14 for 29. That 48% completion percentage would spell trouble for ECU if Georgia State can replicate UCF’s defensive success. Receivers CJ Johnson, Blake Proehl (son of former NFL WR Ricky) and Tyler Snead all tallied 670 receiving yards or more in 2019 and all return this season, so Ahlers has good targets in the pass game, he’s just got to find them. The Pirates will have to treasure the ball more in the running game after four fumbles, three of them lost, in their defeat last Saturday. Four running backs are listed in their depth chart, including freshmen Rahjai Harris and Keaton Mitchell, and all four carried between 8 and 12 times against UCF. It’s a deep group that’s not likely to tire over 60 minutes but it’s a group that may cough up the football.
The operative word for this game is uncertainty. Georgia State had an encouraging performance in their opener, even in a loss, while ECU got beat in a blowout. The question is, which of those performances tell the real story? Both? Neither? The answer to those questions may just be clearer after Saturday and may tell us a lot about what type of season Georgia State is slated to have in 2020. Kick-off at Center Parc Stadium is at 12pm EDT and the game can be viewed nationally on ESPNU.