Pirates and Panthers meet for first time hoping to rebound from season-opening losses
The East Carolina Pirates and Georgia State Panthers will look to rebound from season-opening losses when they meet for the first time on Saturday afternoon. Each team has only played one game so far this season, with East Carolina's campaign starting last week while Georgia State had last week's game against Charlotte wiped out due to suspected COVID-19 concerns that turned out be a case of the laboratory reading the test results incorrectly.
East Carolina crawled to a 4-8 record in 2019 in its first year under Mike Houston, winning just one game after the calendar flipped from September to October. Those woes continued in the Pirates' first game of 2020 as they fell to then-No. 13 UCF. East Carolina scored first in the opening four minutes of the game, but the Knights scored 41 unanswered points en route to a 51-28 win.
Georgia State finished 7-6 a season ago, opening its 2019 campaign with a 38-30 road win over Tennessee. Its start to 2020 didn't have quite the same level of success, as the Panthers hosted then-No. 19 Louisiana and nearly pulled off the upset but fell 34-31 in overtime. Georgia State led 14-7 at the half and scored first in overtime with a field goal, but Louisiana found the end zone on its overtime drive to hold on for the win.
East Carolina at Georgia State
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 26 at 12 p.m. ET
Spread: Georgia State -1
When East Carolina Has the Ball
Quarterback Holton Ahlers finished 12th in the FBS last season with 282.3 passing yards per game. His 215-yard effort against UCF didn't quite match his 2019 average, but he did throw for three touchdowns to supply all but one of the Pirates' visits to the end zone on Saturday.
Ahlers also added 55 rushing yards on 12 carries, trailing only Keaton Mitchell who totaled 66 yards on eight rushes for the team lead. On the receiving side, eight different Pirates caught at least one pass from Ahlers, as Audie Omotosho led the way with three receptions for 56 yards. Ahlers spread out the scoring production as well, finding C.J. Johnson, Darius Pinnix and Tyler Snead for a touchdown apiece.
Georgia State had its share of defensive struggles in 2019, finishing in the bottom 10 nationally in scoring defense (36.2 ppg) and bottom 20 in total defense (455.5 ypg). Things didn't get any better against Louisiana, as the Panthers surrendered 519 yards although they did register eight tackles for a loss — including two by defensive tackle Dontae Wilson.
When Georgia State Has the Ball
Quarterback Cornelious Brown made his first career start in the opener against Louisiana and while he failed to eclipse 200 passing yards (22-of-39, 196 yards), he did account for two of the Panthers four touchdowns, with one through the air and another on the ground.
The Panthers totaled 223 yards on the ground against the Ragin' Cajuns. Destin Coates led the way for the with 150 yards and a touchdown on 34 carries (4.41 ypc), followed closely by Brown's 64 yards on 15 carries. When Brown went to the air, he completed a pass to nine different receivers with Roger Carter collecting 53 yards and a touchdown on just two catches while Terrance Dixon (34 yards), Coates (21 yards), and Sam Pinckney (21 yards) shared the team lead with four receptions each.
East Carolina had all sorts of trouble defensively last season, finishing in the bottom 20 in the FBS in both scoring defense (33.7 ppg) and total defense (469.3 ypg). The Pirates surrendered 632 total yards to UCF in the opener, failing to muster a sack or takeaway and tallying only two tackles for loss as a team.
A lot can change after one game, especially given all the volatility to be expected this season. Even still, Georgia State has some momentum after taking a top-20 opponent to overtime before ultimately falling short, and now the Panthers will host an East Carolina team looking to rebound from a 23-point home loss. With both teams' defensive woes from last season continuing into 2020, points should not be hard to find in this one.
Prediction: Georgia State 37, East Carolina 23
— Written by Juan Jose Rodriguez, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a 2019 graduate of the University of Notre Dame. Rodriguez was an intern for Athlon during summer 2017 and worked for a variety of media outlets on campus, including as the Editor-in-Chief of Scholastic Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @JuanJoseRG02.