Start time: 7:00 p.m. EST, Sept. 18
Location: Center Parc Stadium, Atlanta, GA
Records: CLT (2-0), GSU (0-2)
Spread: GSU -5.0; O/U 63
When it comes to tale of the tape, it doesn’t get much more contrasting than Georgia State and Charlotte. The GSU Panthers were outscored by a combined 65 points in their first two games against Army and UNC and failed to find any form of offensive identity; they’ve recorded just 448 yards in their 0-2 start.
Charlotte, a preseason middle-of-the-pack-er, beat both Duke and Gardner-Webb to start 2-0 via an extremely balanced offense and a very strong passing defense. The Niners are joint-first in Conference USA.
Despite the counterposed starts, Vegas seems to feel each team will flip the script on Saturday. ESPN calls GSU a five-point favorite; GSU is 0-2 ATS, CLT is 2-0.
Who is Charlotte?
Charlotte, like many collegiate programs, was not treated kindly by the 2020 COVID season. Per Charlotte Observer and Underdog Dynasty writer Hunter Bailey, the Niners had nine cancelled games last season, five being cut within 24 hours of kickoff. They mustered just two wins in six games over C-USA rivals North Texas and UTEP.
To start 2021, the Niners beat Duke for the first time in program history and Gardner-Webb for a second consecutive time.
Charlotte has done so via an incredibly equitable offense and an impressive aerial defense.
The 49ers’ first downs have been split perfectly 21-and-21 between passing and rushing and as a team have gained only 32 more yards through the air than on the ground.
Chris Reynolds was named to the 2021 Maxwell Award Watch List as the Niners’ redshirt senior quarterback. He set multiple single season school records in 2019 and climbed his way to second in career passing yards and touchdowns for Charlotte in 2020 despite tearing his labrum. Reynolds has thrown for 427 yards thus far this season and added nearly 100 yards on the ground.
Reynolds’ favorite target in among the strong Charlotte receiving corps is senior Victor Tucker. Tucker was good for 50+ receptions in his freshman and sophomore years, was on pace for 800 yards in 2020, and through two games is currently on track for an 1,000 receiving year. His 12 receptions is double the next-highest tally on the team.
The Niners have taken a very team-friendly approach to their rushing attack. Chavon McEachern and Shadrick Byrd are the two primary ball carriers, but account for only half of the rushing attempts with 21 and 22 respectively. QB Reynolds has taken 14 attempts of his own and Calvin Camp has taken 16 touches; Camp is the team’s leading rusher.
From a defensive perspective, Charlotte is elite in the passing game. They have allowed a combined 278 air yards in two games and an opposing competition percentage just a margin over 50%. No one on the team has picked a ball of yet but eight different players have broken up a pass. Redshirt freshman Shedrick Ursery leads the team with three.
Charlotte’s front seven is around average in the pass rush— they’ve recorded just five sacks despite having hit the QB 13 times— but are atrocious when it comes to stopping the run. The 49ers conceded 352 rushing yards to Duke and 164 to Gardner-Webb. The two teams combined for 6.1 yards per carry over 84 rushing attempts. Four of the five touchdowns the Niners have conceded this year have come on the ground.
How does GSU win?
As mentioned above, the Charlotte defense lets opposing backs do whatever they please. It will be up to the Panthers to take this offensive opportunity and convert yards into points.
Last time GSU recorded more than six yards per carry was a 2020 loss to Arkansas State. In that game they rushed for 269 yards on 41 carries and scored three times on the ground. RB Destin Coates was inactive for that matchup due to an undisclosed injury, but power back Tucker Gregg filled in just fine. Gregg averaged over 10 yards on each of his 14 carries including an uncharacteristically long 56-yard rush.
Putting up rushing yards in not the only factor, however. QB Cornelius Brown IV needs to find his rhythm after starting the season with a 52.2% completion percentage, a measly 197 air yards, and an abhorrent 0:2 TD-INT ratio.
The Niners possess an evenly balanced offence, something the Panthers are yet to play this season. Army dominated on the ground and UNC threw for over 600 yards. By either having a strong ground presence or a respectable performance in the secondary, the GSU can hopefully knock Charlotte out of their gameplan and exploit that uncertainty.
Despite what the spread says, GSU has an uphill battle. The Panthers have lost two consecutive soul crushers and have shown little to be optimistic about in the process. Head coach Shawn Elliott said that his team can hang its hat on two strong performances in the trenches despite the statlines and has praised his special teams unit nonstop this season. While these are important areas of the game, the Panthers are in desperate need of a step up defensively and a heavily polished offensive performance if they wish to avoid an 0-3 start for the first time since 2016.
GSU benefits from home field advantage. Center Parc Stadium was at 73% capacity for the Panthers’ first and only home game thus far, but that game kicked off at noon in the feels-like-90° Atlanta heat. A twilight kickoff will hopefully fill the stands and lead to a more Panther-friendly environment.
Prediction: GSU 27-24 CLT