For the first time in their nine years as an FBS program, Georgia State will battle North Carolina when the Panthers head to Chapel Hill on Saturday night. Head coach Shawn Elliott has guided Georgia State to bowl appearances in three of his four seasons in Atlanta, but 2021 started poorly with a blowout loss to Army last Saturday.
North Carolina's quest for an ACC Coastal Division title encountered a major speed bump last Friday night when the Tar Heels fell at Virginia Tech. Though this is a non-conference game against a Group of 5 school, Mack Brown's crew needs to generate some positive momentum before resuming ACC play next week.
In their brief history, Georgia State is 1-9 against Power 5 teams, losing by an average of 30 points per game.
Georgia State at North Carolina
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 11 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Spread: North Carolina -25.5
When Georgia State Has the Ball
Granted, the Panthers were facing a team that returned eight starters from the nation's top-ranked total defense and were missing Sam Pinckney, one of the Sun Belt's best receivers. But they struggled to move the ball all day long, compiling just 177 yards of total offense. The problems started early as Georgia State fumbled on its first possession, leading to an Army score.
Pinckney missed the Army game due to COVID protocols, and at this time it is not clear if he will be cleared for this coming week. Quarterback Cornelious Brown IV connected seven times with sophomore Jamari Thrash last week, but Georgia State needs others to step up since Brown only completed 12 total passes on the day. Also, Destin Coates and a running game that ranked 39th nationally last season have to do more after rushing for just 48 yards in Week 1.
It is interesting that after playing Army, Georgia State now faces a defense coached by Jay Bateman, who was the coordinator at West Point before coming to Carolina in 2019. Bateman's unit played very well in Blacksburg last Saturday night and gave up just 296 yards while forcing a couple of turnovers. With just 127 yards allowed on the ground, the Heels' defense was stingy against the run, and corner Ja'Qurious Conley, who really came on at the end of his freshman season, had the most productive game of his career.
When North Carolina Has the Ball
Though the Tar Heels lost much of their skill position talent from last year, it is still stunning that their offense was only able to put up 10 points in the opener against Virginia Tech. The reports out of camp on the new receivers seemed to be quite positive, and Tennessee transfer Ty Chandler appeared to be a quality option.
In reality, Chandler did have 66 yards on 10 carries, and slot receiver Josh Downs had a big game with eight receptions for 123 yards and a score. There were, however, a couple of key facets that doomed the Heels' offense. First, outside of Downs and Emery Simmons, who three catches for 46 yards, Carolina's other receivers caught just three balls for 26 yards. Beau Corrales and Khafre Brown were both sidelined for the opener, so the hope is that one of them will be able to return soon and along with fellow veteran Antoine Green be a reliable option for Sam Howell. Even more importantly, an offensive line that returned all five starters has to play much better. Virginia Tech sacked Howell six times and forced three interceptions. If Howell doesn't have time to throw and the backs have nowhere to run, the offense will sputter regardless of how good the quarterback may be.
It is tough to gauge what Georgia State's defense will do against Carolina based solely on their opener against Army, as UNC's offense is much different than the Black Knights' option style. The Panthers return nine starters from a defense that was 33rd in America against the run and 113th versus the pass. Suffice it to say, Howell and the receivers should look to get well this weekend. Safety Antavious Lane and corner Quavian White are aggressive defenders who combined for seven interceptions last year, so Howell will have to be careful with the ball.
We are going to get a glimpse of what this North Carolina team is made of in the coming weeks. The loss to the Hokies put them behind the eight-ball right out of the gate, but it is way too early to concede anything. The young receivers have to improve, and the offensive line must get to the point that this unit is a strength for the offense. This is a good week to make strides. Georgia State is a nice Sun Belt team but has proven time and again that it's not ready to take down the big boys. Whether or not the Tar Heels will be ready for Virginia in Week 3 is another question, but they will push around the visiting Panthers quite easily on Saturday.
Prediction: North Carolina 45, Georgia State 14
Podcast: Week 2 Preview, Predictions and Picks Against the Spread
— Written by Jon Kinne, who has been part of the Athlon Contributor Network for three years, covering the ACC and Notre Dame. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.