The Georgia State Panthers (0-2) will look to right the ship as they return to Atlanta and welcome the undefeated Charlotte 49ers (2-0). Georgia State is in desperate need of a narrative change, as they have been outscored 92-27 through two games so far this season and have not played up to preseason expectations. The Panthers have dropped their first two contests on the season, losing their first road game to North Carolina 59-17 last week. The 49ers have been the complete opposite of the Panthers through 2 games, as they are fresh off a 38-10 win last week against FCS Gardner-Webb and already have an upset win over Duke. Charlotte is led at the helm by Will Healy, who is in his 3rd year. Healy has compiled a 11-10 record as the head man in Charlotte. The two teams were supposed to play during the 2020 season, but the game was cancelled due to Covid-19.
There is a discrepancy between the tape and the box score in regards to Georgia State’s performance, but ultimately execution needs to improve for the Panthers to get back on track. Georgia State has amassed only 439 yards of offense and averaged 3.57 yards per play. That is a far cry from the torrid offensive performance the Panthers had in 2020. For reference, through their first two games last year, they had over 800 yards of offense. Some of that can be blamed on the level of the opponents the Panthers have faced, but despite holding the same 2-0 record, Charlotte perhaps offers the Panthers a game on a more level playing field. In their first game of the season, they surrendered 580 yards to Duke, 352 on the ground. There is no telling if Destin Coates or Tucker Gregg will have a 250+ yard rushing performance against the 49ers similar to Duke’s Mataeo Durant, but it would be important for the Panthers to get those two guys on track.
Speaking of righting the ship, Charlotte provides another opportunity for redshirt sophomore QB Quad Brown to get back on track after a poor showing in each of the Panthers’ first two games. The season numbers for Quad aren’t the best – 24-for-46 (a 53.2% completion rate), 197 passing yards, 0 TDs, 2 interceptions, 14 rushes for -10 yards and 1 rushing TD. Gardner Webb only passed for 50 yards, but Duke passed for over 228 and generally moved the ball well through the air against the 49ers. It remains to be seen what Georgia State head coach Shawn Elliott needs to see to solidify Quad’s status as the Panthers’ starting quarterback, but if he struggles for a third straight game, then expect senior transfer Darren Grainger to see the field sooner than he did in each of the prior two games.
Defensively, Georgia State has done a surprisingly good job against the run. The overall numbers might look ugly due to Army being a triple option team, but Georgia State has handled the ground game very well so far this year. The Black Knights did not get a run that was more than 16 yards all game. Take away the two Sam Howell rushing touchdowns and the same can be said for the Tar Heels. The front seven has not gotten after the quarterback as they had hoped, but their performance has not been the problem necessarily for Georgia State. Despite this, the unit as a whole has got to be better about getting off the field. The Panthers opponents are converting on 57.69 of their 3rd downs so far this season. The Panthers only have 2 sacks and 8 tackles for loss so far and DE Hardrick Willis has yet to make his presence felt so far this season. Getting him going and in the 49ers’ backfield is key for a Georgia State win today.
Charlotte has provided a very well balanced attack offensively through two games and will most likely continue that trend against the Panthers. Against Duke, the 49ers rushed for just 151, but threw for 324. Against Gardner-Webb, the 49ers rushed for over 300 yards and passed for 168. The gameplan will be the exact same against Georgia State – balance, balance, balance. Senior QB Chris Reynolds will be the one under center. Through two games Reynolds has gone 29/46 for a 61.7 completion rate, with 427 yards passing, 4 TDs, 2 INTs, 14 rushes for 97 yards and 2 rushing TDs. His offensive line returned four starters who have kept him upright so far, allowing only two sacks on the season. Behind Reynolds is a pair of tailbacks in Calvin Camp and Chavon McEachern both capable of racking up huge gains on the ground. Keep an eye on Reynolds, Camp and McEachern, as all three are either at or close to 100 rushing yards through two games.
On defense, the 49ers have been a bit inconsistent and pose a potential wild card in this matchup. While they have allowed opposing teams just a 51% completion rating, opposing teams are averaging 258 yards per game on the ground. The defense has broken up 9 passes in two games, and while they as a unit are still looking for its first interception of the season, expect defensive backs Jon Alexander and Geo Howard to make their presence felt against Georgia State. Up front, DE Markees Watts has given opposing offensive lines trouble and gotten a sack in each of the two games the 49ers have played. Him and his teammate Kofi Wardlow make for a potent edge rushing attack that the Panthers must be ready for.
Betting lines don’t mean a whole lot, but despite how the two teams have played, Vegas likes the Panthers at just under a touchdown favorite. This game could be a springboard in either direction for Georgia State, up into the trajectory expected of this team in the preseason or deeper down into despair. And regardless of the final result, this is a must-play-well game for the Panthers. If not, it might be time to start asking some questions. Kickoff from Center Parc Stadium is tonight at 7pm Eastern and fans watching on television can catch it on ESPN+.