Editor's note: On Friday afternoon, Georgia State announced that its Sept. 26 game at Charlotte had been postponed due to positive COVID-19 tests among team members. No determination has been made regarding rescheduling.
The Georgia State Panthers and Charlotte 49ers will look to rebound from season-opening losses when they meet on Saturday in Jerry Richardson Stadium. No, this isn't an NFC Sunday afternoon showdown, though the nicknames of these two teams and the stadium name might suggest otherwise.
Coming off a 7-6 record in 2019 that also included the program's inaugural bowl appearance, Charlotte opened its 2020 season two weeks ago with a 35-20 loss at Appalachian State before having to cancel last week's game against North Carolina due to a COVID-19 outbreak on the team. The 49ers jumped out to a 7-0 lead after the first quarter against App State, but the Mountaineers held Charlotte to just 13 points in the final three quarters en route to the 15-point win.
Georgia State likewise 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 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 the Ragin' Cajuns found the end zone on its overtime drive to hold on for the win.
The Panthers and 49ers have met twice before, each winning on the road. Charlotte squeaked out a 23-20 win in the Georgia Dome in 2015, while Georgia State shut out the 49ers in Charlotte by a 28-0 margin in 2017. These two teams will see each other quite a bit in the near future, as they are scheduled to meet each of the next two years at Georgia State before returning to Charlotte in 2023.
Georgia State at Charlotte
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 26 at 12 p.m. ET
Spread: Georgia State -2.5
When Georgia State Has the Ball
Quarterback Cornelious Brown IV 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 and, in doing so, netted two of the conference's top 12 rushers by yards per carry. Destin Coates led the way for the Panthers with 34 carries for 150 yards (4.41 ypc) and a touchdown, followed closely by Brown (4.27 ypc), who tallied 64 yards on 15 carries. When Brown went to the air, he found nine different receivers for at least one completion, 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.
Charlotte struggled mightily on defense last season, allowing 32.4 points and 380.9 yards per game in 2019. The 49ers didn't exactly start 2020 on the right foot with regard to improving those numbers, as Appalachian State totaled 512 total yards in their 35-point showing last week. The play of defensive back Ben DeLuca and linebacker Tyler Murray provided a pair of bright spots, however. DeLuca, an Athlon Sports first-team All-Conference USA pick, collected an FBS-leading 16 tackles, while Murray added 14 tackles with a forced fumble, fumble recovery, and an interception in his Charlotte debut after transferring from Troy.
When Charlotte Has the Ball
Quarterback Chris Reynolds was Conference USA's most efficient passer a season ago but started the 2020 campaign with just 140 passing yards and a pair of interceptions against Appalachian State in the season-opener. Due to an upper-body injury, he was slated to miss the North Carolina game, but his status for the Georgia State matchup is uncertain. Any missed time for Reynolds would open the door for two-time transfer Dom Shoffner to make his first appearance for the 49ers after transferring from Monroe (N.Y.) College and enrolling at Charlotte in January. Shoffner passed for 2,488 yards and 27 touchdowns last season at Monroe and added an additional 441 yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground, paving the way for his selection as the Northeast Football Conference's Offensive Player of the Year.
Shoffner will be joined in the backfield by a fellow newcomer in running back Tre Harbison III, a graduate transfer from Northern Illinois who is fresh off a pair of consecutive 1,000-yard seasons for the Huskies. Harbison averaged 92.8 yards per game last season, and he nearly matched that figure with 17 carries for 87 yards and a touchdown against App State. 2020 Biletnikoff Watch List selection Victor Tucker notched three catches for 23 yards against the Mountaineers, while freshman tight end Taylor Thompson caught two passes for a team-high 62 yards in his collegiate debut.
Like Charlotte, 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). The 519 total yards allowed to Louisiana ranks as the third-worst per-game mark in the FBS, though the Panthers' eight tackles for a loss — including two by defensive tackle Dontae Wilson — are good for a top-15 mark thus far.
The Panthers have some momentum after taking a top-20 opponent to overtime before ultimately falling short, and now they'll hit the road to face a Charlotte team looking to find some consistency. With both teams' defensive woes to begin 2020, anticipate a high-scoring battle.
Prediction: Georgia State 35, Charlotte 24
— 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.
(Top photo courtesy of Charlotte Athletics)