The Charlotte 49ers’ first road trip of the season ended up with their first loss. Missed opportunities and a second-half shutout derailed the 49ers’ offense in a 20-9 loss to Georgia State.
Coming into Week 3, Charlotte was averaging 34.5 points and well over 400 yards of total offense per game. Georgia State’s veteran defense played a role, but as Chris Reynolds said postgame, “It’s all about us and how we didn’t execute.”
Here are five takeaways from the loss:
Lack of aggression
The 49ers looked passive on offense throughout. Whether it was the wet conditions or just a tough game, quarterback Chris Reynolds seemed off. Reynolds was kept clean on 72% of his dropbacks where he completed just 52% of his passes, including the lone touchdown to freshman Elijah Spencer.
The 49ers’ 276 yards of total offense is the lowest output in offensive coordinator Mark Carney’s tenure. They finished 4-of-15 on third down and converted two of their four fourth-down attempts. The most questionable call of the game was punting from Georgia State’s 35. Granted, it was fourth-and-long, but Jonathan Cruz has been consistent from 50-plus yards throughout his career, and the ensuing punt was a touchback, essentially a 15-yard punt.
After scoring in every quarter of the first two games, Charlotte’s offense was held scoreless for three quarters. “At some point in time we’ve got to put the pedal to the metal and put some people away,” head coach Will Healy said postgame.
Charlotte showed some wildcat offense with direct snaps to running backs, but expect Carney to get back to the basics this week in preparation for Middle Tennessee, a defense that is giving up 370 yards per game.
Get Victor Tucker involved
Charlotte must get the ball to its best player. It’s that simple.
Tucker recorded just one catch for 11 yards on the evening but was targeted seven times. Reynolds and Tucker weren’t able to connect on throws down the field, including two passes that were just outside of Tucker’s reach.
Whether it’s jet sweeps, quick out routes or in the screen game, Carney has to scheme Tucker open. The 49ers tried a tunnel screen early, but a high pass saw Tucker playing defense to avoid an interception. Good things happen when Tucker has the ball in his hands, and the senior leads the team with 11 100-yard receiving performances.
Heading into the game in Atlanta, the 49ers were allowing 258 yards per game on the ground. Georgia State rushed for 281 in the victory, including a 13-play drive that used over seven minutes of clock over 90 yards — all gained on the ground — and a game-sealing score.
Charlotte sold out to stop the run, leaving its corners in man-to-man coverage on the perimeter. Darren Grainger, while only completing six passes all night, exploited the 49ers’ secondary with repetitive deep shots up the sideline.
All of that to say, the 49ers’ defense wasn’t the issue. Allowing 20 points, forcing two turnovers and forcing a safety doesn’t feel the same in a loss, but it is something to build on moving forward.
“The defense put us in a great position,” Reynolds said. “Safety, pick and fumble. Jon Alexander made some unbelievable plays. We have to find a way to capitalize on the momentum of our defense and use it in our favor.”
Young weapons emerging
Wideouts Jairus “NoNo” Mack and Spencer caught their first touchdowns in back-to-back weeks. Mack scored in the win over Gardner-Webb on an 11-yard catch and run as well as a 39-yard jet sweep. In the loss against Georgia State, Spencer caught a slant route from Reynolds and did the rest himself taking it 36-yards for the score.
With veterans like Tucker and Cameron Dollar in their senior seasons, the young core at receivers consisting of Mack, Spencer, Grant DuBose and Taylor Thompson have the makings of a bright future.
First road game
As Aaron Rogers famously said, “R-e-l-a-x.” Charlotte has struggled on the road under Healy, falling to 3-8 with a turnover in every loss. But this was a road test against a solid team, one that is not deserving of a bottom-10 ranking.
Charlotte’s offense struggled to find any sort of rhythm. Healy’s message has been staying committed to the process, and with the first week of Conference USA play starting with Middle Tennessee on Friday night, Charlotte must flush this loss and get back on track.
The 49ers host the Blue Raiders, a team that has rushed for only 162 yards all season. Many assumed Charlotte would have just one win heading to conference play, but sitting at 2-1, the 49ers are still in position to contend for a bowl bid for the second time in three seasons.
“It was a couple of one-on-one shots down the field that they made and we didn’t. I’m disappointed, losing is never acceptable,” Healy said. “But what a great challenge. Go on the road and get beat, and now you’ve got a short week. How do we respond?”