Last year Charlotte went up to Boone and ultimately dropped the contest 56-41. There quite a few positives to take away from the game, however Charlotte certainly didn’t help their case up the mountain. I’ll discuss some of that a bit, and other things below in What I’m Watching.

At first glance you will see 41 points—the most scored on them since Miami Hurricanes (#25) tallied 45 on them in 2016—and think there wasn’t much room for a better performance. Yes and no. Charlotte struggled to finish the first half, which was a common theme at times last year and is certainly a scenario to monitor this fall.

After Appalachian State missed a 31 yard field goal attempt with 2:04 left in the 2nd quarter, Charlotte took over trailing 13-14. 2 plays and a strip-sack later, Appalachian State had ball  and proceeded to score on the next play.

1:14 left in the 2nd quarter.

Charlotte runs the ball on first, second and third down and is forced to punt. Appalachian State used a timeout after each carry. 4th and 6th from the Charlotte 26, with 48 seconds remaining. Appalachian State blocks the punt and returns it to the house. Charlotte enters the half at 28-13. Those disasterours 2 minutes ultimately gave Appalachian State the cushion they’d need throughout the rest of the contest.

WHAT ABOUT THE GOOD STUFF? There was plenty of it. Charlotte amassed over 500 yards in offense, passing for nearly 300 yards and running for 230 more. Micaelous Elder shined, can he do it again in Boone?

What I’m watching

  • Can we establish the run again? We all know plan A & B are to get things on the ground going to open up the RPO options where Reynolds can carve up opposing defenses. How are carries shared, is it a split between McAllister and Harbison, or does one stake their claim to RB1?
  • At the WR spot, whose hot? Tucker and Dollar are going to get all the snaps they can handle, who shows up with them? There are plenty of options in that room: Elder, Rico Arnold (missed last season due to lisfranc injury), Tyler Ringwood. Keep an eye out on Tre Goode as well.
  • Offensive line, this is the biggest question mark coming into the season. Losing 3 starters, who settles in? D’mitri Emmanuel looks to ancho the LT spot, Fisher has well cemented himself at Center, what happens beyond that? There is some depth here due to the additions made via the trail, most notably Ty’kieast Crawford. Crawford isn’t on the official 2-deep and Healy mentioned in his weekly presser that there was a hurdle to clear for him. It remains to be seen how that has gone, or what it was. Redshirt Senior Jonathan Timmons is listed at Left Guard on the 2-deep, he’s appeared in 14 games over the past 2 seasons, including 1 start. Ashton Gist, a JUCO All-American, is penciled in at the Right Guard spot. Also in the mix is Dejan Rauso (2019 CUSA All-Freshman team) who played Guard, Tackle and Center last season, Redshirt Sophomore Gage Wellborn (1 career start), Hunter Kelly (Penn State grad transfer) and Jon Jacobs (Arizona grad transfer) who was a late arrival to fall camp.
  • There’s age + experience at Tight End in Ryan Carriere, Christian Roberson and Jacob Hunt. Traditionally in the past TE’s have been lightly-used in the passing game, yet integral in our rushing attack. It’ll be interesting to see how these guys are used with new Offensive Coordinator Mark Carney. Don’t overlook Donta Armstrong and Taylor Thompson, both are true freshman and were playmakers in high school and could provide another dimension at the TE spot.

Giving up 56 points is never a good thing. As I mentioned in the Offensive tab, 2 of those TDs aren’t on the defense. Charlotte did force Appalachian State to punt on 5 different occasions. Bad news, we gave up an 87 yard touchdown run on the first play of the game. I’m glad he’s gone. Later Appalachian State scored on a 73 yard strike through the air and another long TD run, this one of the 68 yard variety.

Everyone knows Charlotte has lost All-American Defensive End Alex Highsmith to the NFL. Good news, Markees Watts is primed to take over as sackmaster. Last year as a Sophomore Watts had 9.5 sacks and 13 TFLs. Fortunately for Charlotte they return Redshirt Senior Tyriq Harris who missed all of last season to a back injury. As a Junior Harris was named 3rd Team All-CUSA by Phil Steele. Also lost from the defense is the programs leader in tackles, Jeff Gemmel, who was the Quarterback of the defense.

What I’m watching

  •  Who spells Harris and Watts on the edge? This was a prime spot for Jaison Williams, a graduate transfer from Austin Peay, but he’s seemingly done with football at this point. On the 2-deep Redshirt Sophomore Taylor Chandler and Damon Weldon Jr. are listed. Beyond those 2 we could see Redshirt Freshman Michael Kelly, who appeared in several contests last year but preserved his RS. After I started this Pete Thamel broke the news that Romeo McKnight (recent transfer from Illinois State) will be suiting up. McKnight has had 111 tackles and 15 sacks over the past 2 seasons for the Red Birds since transferring from Iowa.
  • Defensive tackle was a soft-spot defensively last year and the staff has added quite a few bodies here. Listed as starters are Siah Sa’o (grad transfer via Vandy) and Bryan Wallace, who started 5 out of the last 7 games in 2019. It was notable when Redshirt Senior Timmy Horne wasn’t listed as a starter. Demond Stewart got run last year at DT, in addition to him I’m looking to see if Johnny Ray, Desmond Morgan and late addition Mikel Horton from Wofford. While at Wofford he was injury prone but was 2nd team Freshman All-American.
  • At the Linebacker/SAM (think hybrid LB/Safety) spot there is palpable buzz around Redshirt Junior Tyler Murray, who sat out last season due to NCAA rules after his transfer from Troy. While at Troy he was named 3rd Team All-Sun Belt as a true Sophomore. Opposite of him looks to be Senior Luke Martin, who Healy has mentioned as the signal caller of this defensive squad. Late in the 2019 season things appeared to click for Brelin Faison-Walden (transfer from Penn State), had a high of 6 tackles vs. Buffalo in the Bahamas Bowl. With Prince Bemah out look for Redshirt Sophomore B.J. Turner and Sophomore Jaylon Sharpe to spell them. This is Bemah’s 3rd season with a significant injury, lets hope he’s able to get healthy and stay that way, the talent is there.
  • The Secondary might feel like there are a ton of new faces, and you’d feel correct. The starters will be familiar names: Nafees Lyon, Lance McMillan, Ben Deluca and Jacion Fugate. Names to keep an eye on: Antone Williams (Duke tranfer), Solomon Rogers, Daejun Gibson (ESPN article tabbed him as Freshman DPOY in CUSA), and Briston Bennett.

Special Teams last year, well, to put it nicely, weren’t special. It’s why Healy went out and hired a full time Specials Team Coordinator in Charles Bankins. Noteably in the Appalachian State game last season we had a punt blocked and returned for a TD, a 45 yard kick return and an onside return kick was scooped and returned for a TD late.

What I’m watching

  • Return coverage all around, limiting big plays.
  • Bankins seems to preach hang time, so I’ll be keeping a watchful eye on that as opposed to distance in the punting game.
  • Explosive plays on our behalf. Seems like our return game has lacking. Can someone like Elder pop