Georgia State (0-2) kept it close in Chapel Hill for 35 minutes and then had the bottom fall out, losing to #22/#24 North Carolina 59-17. The Tar Heels outgained Georgia State 607-271 – sparked by a massive 403-131 edge in the second half – in a performance led by their standout quarterback Sam Howell. After an inconsistent performance in their season-opening loss to Virginia Tech, Howell showed out against the Panthers, finishing with 352 passing yards, 104 rushing yards and five total touchdowns – three passing, two rushing.
Down 24-10 early in the 3rd quarter and driving, a Quad Brown 20-yard completion to Ja’Cyais Credle would have set the Panthers up at midfield, but it was called back on an ineligible receiver downfield penalty, and it became 2nd-and-long instead of 1st down at the 50. Georgia State was forced to punt and UNC scored on the ensuing drive to start what would ultimately be a 28-0 run in the second half to take total control of the game.
Panthers QB Quad Brown struggled for the second straight game, finishing 12-of-26 for 68 yards with two interceptions. Brown did, however, find the end zone on the ground. In a brief spell late in the game, backup quarterback Darren Grainger ended up pacing the Panthers with 53 rushing yards. Antoine Green led the Tar Heels with 117 receiving yards, followed closely behind by Josh Downs and Emery Simmons with 73 each. All three caught a touchdown pass. Ty Chandler, a graduate transfer from Tennessee, and British Brooks also added a rushing touchdown apiece for North Carolina.
Georgia State head coach Shawn Elliott characterized the loss as “very disappointing”. He said, “During the course of that game, there were some times I really thought both lines of scrimmage were controlled by us. We got in that 2nd quarter – I was really pleased. We were playing with momentum, we were playing with effort and enthusiasm. There was a great look in the eye. And you come out there in the 3rd quarter and, in the blink of an eye, it’s out of hand… It’s disappointing.”
On an introspective note, Coach Elliott has this to say: “I’m not going to sit here and tell you we’ve got a good football team, because right now we’ve got a lot of problems. We’ve got a lot of problems we’ve got to take care of. We’ve got a bunch of frontrunners in there… It starts with us as coaches and it starts with them players too, but there’s guys in there that think, ‘Hey, it’s going to be very, very easy and we have all the answers,’ but it’s not the case.” He continued, “It’s pretty evident over the last two games we’ve got a lot of doggone questions and we don’t have a lot of answers. We got to get out of that mentality. I don’t know why it is. We haven’t done anything to deserve any of it.”
The Tar Heels were clicking on all cylinders early. After forcing a Georgia State three-and-out on offense to start proceedings, the UNC offense struck fast with a 6-play, 74-yard drive in 2:21 that was capped off by a Sam Howell 22-yard touchdown run. The Panthers found their way into enemy territory for the first time of the night courtesy of a 29-yard option pitch for WR Cornelius McCoy, but the drive stalled out when Quad Brown couldn’t connect with Terrance Dixon on 4th-and-2 at the UNC 32. North Carolina only needed four plays and a minute and 16 seconds on their second drive, taking a two-score lead with 7:55 left in the opening quarter on a perfectly thrown 57-yard pitch-and-catch between Howell and Antoine Green.
It looked like the night would get long early when the Georgia State offense came up short yet again on drive number three, but the defense came up with their first takeaway of the young season when Dontae Wilson pounced on a Howell fumble at the UNC 19 on the first play of the Tar Heels’ next drive. The offense couldn’t take advantage of the short field and find the end zone, but Noel Ruiz’s 37-yard field goal attempt was true and the Panthers were on the board. Another perfectly-in-rhythm pass play for North Carolina, this time between Howell and WR Emery Simmons, gave the Tar Heels their largest lead of the half at 21-3 with 13:49 in the 2nd quarter, but Georgia State answered with their best drive of the season – a 17-play, 75-yard drive that took up 7:30 – and found the end zone for the first time of the night via a Quad Brown 4-yard touchdown run.
The Panthers defense, which held UNC to just 37 rushing yards on 16 carries in the first two quarters, stood up and forced the Tar Heels into their first three-and-out of the night. But after a three-and-out of their own and a disastrous fake punt play that came up well short of the line to gain, it was the turn of UNC to be set up in prime field position at the GSU 21. However, just like when the Panthers were given field position around the red zone, the Tar Heels offense stalled out and had to settle for a field goal and took a two-touchdown lead into halftime.
On moving forward from this loss, Coach Elliott said, “About all I can say is we’re going to go back there and evaluate everyone, make sure we have the right guys on the field, make sure we have the right coaches making the right calls, take a good hard look at everything we’ve done over the last two games. And we’ve got to improve, we’ve got to improve in a hurry to take on a Charlotte team coming into our place next week.”
This is Georgia State’s first 0-2 start since Coach Elliott’s first season in Atlanta in 2017. The Panthers return to Center Parc Stadium to host Charlotte next Saturday in their second and final out-of-conference home game of 2021. Kickoff in Atlanta will be under the lights at 7pm Eastern.