CHARLOTTE 49ERS (0-0, 0-0 C-USA) vs APPALACHIAN STATE (0-0, 0-0 SUN BELT)
Date/Time: Saturday, September 12th, 12:00 PM ET
TV: ESPN 2
Location: Kidd Brewer Stadium, Boone, NC
Fan Capacity: No fans
Betting Line: Appalachian State -17 (O/U 59.5)
All-Time Series Record: Appalachian State 2-0
Previous Matchup: Appalachian State capitalized on the 49ers’ special teams miscues on their way to a 56-41 victory in week 2 of 2019.
While this matchup wasn’t on either team’s radar through the spring, the cancellations and postponements that have littered the start of the college football season opened the door for the third installment of the 49ers and the Mountaineers meeting on the gridiron.
The players wanted it, the coaches wanted it, and the Athletic Directors made it happen. This Twitter interaction was one of my favorites of what has felt like the longest off-season ever.
For you, my man.— Mike Hill (@rmikehill) August 13, 2020
Will Healy’s 49ers posted a program-best 7-win season in 2019, but one of the six losses felt a bit more personal than the rest. Charlotte trekked to Boone as 24-point underdogs and fought through repetitive special teams miscues to keep it a one-score game with less than four minutes to play. The Mountaineers didn’t commit a single turnover and used a career day from current Tennessee Titan Darrynton Evans to propel past the 49ers.
Healy has been adamant that Charlotte has something to prove before this matchup can be considered a rivalry.
“I mean, it’s our job to make people become rivals. Until we beat somebody, they’re not a rival for us, you know? They don’t consider us a rival right now because we’ve never beaten them.”
Charlotte shocked a lot of people with their performance in week two of 2019, but not themselves.
“This is not a moral victory,” Healy said. “Just competing with Appalachian State is not where we want to be. We’re not going to be everybody’s homecoming game anymore. We’re not going to be a 24-point underdog to another ‘Group of 5’ team anymore.”
With the start of the 2020 season just days away, the 49ers offense is poised to put points on the board against anyone as they look to improve on the 29.8 points per game notched in 2019.
Chris Reynolds won the starting job with his 296 yards and 4 touchdown performance against the Mountaineers and will have his work cut out for him against a defense that returns four starters from last season’s 13-1 campaign. Victor Tucker and Micaleous Elder combined for 209 yards against the Mountaineers, and if the 49ers O-line can protect Reynolds, I expect Charlotte to return to the 5-wide set that proved deadly late in last season’s game.
Charlotte rushed for 230 total yards as Benny LeMay led the charge with 18 carries for 114 yards and 2 scores against the Mountaineers in 2019. The combo of Aaron McAllister and Tre Harbison must pick up where LeMay left off in order for the 49ers to be in position to secure the first win of the season. McAllister was tabbed as the starter, but you can expect a heavy dose of both backs throughout this game and the season.
Troy transfer Tyler Murray has made a name for himself and is a projected starter at linebacker for Charlotte. The best game of his career with the Trojans came against Appalachian State where he posted eight tackles and two tackles for loss. I expect Murray to come to play in his debut for the 49ers, especially with the unexpected departure of former starter Henry Segura.
Last but not least, new special teams Coach Charles Bankins must have this unit ready to go. The Mountaineers scored on a blocked punt, took an onside kick back for a touchdown, and held the 49ers’ punt return team in the negative. If the 49ers plan to compete and win this game, cleaning up the errors in all three phases will be paramount.
Charlotte intends to wear their re-branded uniforms, but are anxiously awaiting the arrival of the final piece of the uniform - the jersey.
APPALACHIAN STATE OUTLOOK
The Mountaineers return eight starters on the offensive side of the ball including Sun-Belt Preseason Offensive player of the year, Zac Thomas, and 6 total All-Sun Belt nominees. Corey Sutton missed the 2019 matchup with the 49ers and has opted out for the 2020 season, but the Mountaineers are bolstered with a plethora of options at key skill positions to wreak havoc.
Replacing the production of Darrynton Evans will be a tall task, but as four starters return on the offensive line, the trio of Daetrich Harrington, Camerun Peoples, and Marcus Williams Jr. has the makings to notch the program’s ninth-straight season with a 1,000-yard rusher.
Shawn Clark became the third head coach in as many seasons for the Mountaineers, and the 31-17 victory over UAB in the New Orleans Bowl kicked off his tenure with a bang. Clark served as an assistant with his alma mater since 2016 and was promoted to head coach following the departure of Eli Drinkwitz.
Appalachian State is coming off a 13-1 campaign where they became the only Sun Belt team and FBS program in the state of North Carolina to win 13 games in a season.
One-man wrecking crew Demetrius Taylor has racked up 13.5 sacks and 22.5 tackles for loss in his collegiate career. Taylor’s best performance came against the Tar Heels in last season’s matchup with 4 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, a forced fumble returned for a touchdown, and an interception. The matchup in the trenches against C-USA’s highest-rated recruit, 6-5, 335lb, Ty’kiest Crawford, will be one to keep your eye on.
Replacing three linebackers and both safeties will be a tall task as the Mountaineers have moved on from former DC Ted Roof and brought back Dale Jones. Jones was on staff with Appalachian State for 23 consecutive years before following Scott Satterfield to Louisville to coach linebackers but has returned as Defensive Coordinator under Shawn Clark.
Shaun Jolly will headline the Mountaineer secondary following a breakout 2019 season. I assume Jolly will shadow Victor Tucker throughout the game, and that is a matchup I’m excited to watch. Tucker recorded 6 catches for 90 yards and two fourth-quarter touchdowns against Jolly the last time these teams met.
Zac Thomas will look to build on his decorated career in his final season with the Mountaineers. Thomas completed 62.7% of his passes for 2,718 yards, 28 touchdowns, and 6 interceptions in 2019, as well as 440 yards and 7 touchdowns on the ground. Thomas was a perfect 14-14 for 295 yards and 3 touchdowns against Charlotte in 2018, and 14-20 for 182 yards and 3 scores in 2019.
Appalachian State rushed for 276 total yards on the ground while not committing a turnover all game in the 2019 matchup. The Mountaineers opened up a 22-point lead over Charlotte in the third quarter, but squandered the lead and gave the 49ers hope late in the game. Both offenses are too explosive for either team to let their foot off the gas.
Last year I predicted the 49ers to win on a last-second field goal. I missed the mark as special teams doomed Charlotte instead of propelling them to victory. I think both teams have taken a step forward from 2019, but the Appalachian State offense will prove to be too much for the third consecutive season. I’m going 38-31 Mountaineers, but you can expect this one will be a tight battle throughout.