Workpeh Kofa looks to get open upfield against Marshall. Photo by Chris Crews

Another Saturday has come and gone, and another one is approaching. For the Charlotte 49ers, it means gearing up and heading to the Bluegrass State for a showdown with the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers. For the winless Niners, it means another opportunity to get their first win of the season and hopefully change their fortunes.

Scouting the Hilltoppers

Western Kentucky, the two-time defending champions of C-USA, has struggled to find consistency this year. The Hilltopper’s record stands at 3-2, and they are coming off a surprising 15-14 victory over winless UTEP. Given the Hilltoppers’ struggle to put away UTEP for good, Charlotte can be confident that they can catch WKU on an off day and secure a victory.

WKU’s strength is their passing attack, which is led by senior quarterback Mike White. The gunslinger has gone 125-190 through five games to go with two scores and three interceptions. Despite the low scoring numbers, his receivers have benefited greatly. Four receivers have at least 15 receptions so far this year, led by Lucky Jackson. The redshirt sophomore has 23 catches for 309 yards so far and averages 13.4 yard per reception. Senior Nacarius Fant follows up with 24 catches for 220 yards, Deon Yelder has 17 catches for 180 yards, and Xavier Lane has 16 catches for 192 yards. Jackson and Yelder are the only receivers to have scored a touchdown (one score each).

Meanwhile, the WKU backfield does most of the scoring, but is primarily used once in the redzone. Marquez Trigg has gained a total of 137 yards so far on 42 carries and has two scores. Jakairi Moses flanks him with 32 carries for 125 yards and two touchdowns. Quinton Baker and D’Andre Ferby have 97 and 91 total yards respectively and have also scored touchdowns for the Hilltoppers. As mentioned before, WKU is pretty consistent at scoring in the redzone. The Hilltoppers have gone 14-19 (74 percent) in the redzone, and 12 of those 14 scores have been touchdowns.

On defense, linebacker Joel Iyiegbuniwe has terrorized opposing offenses. The redshirt junior has 42 tackles and has a knack for getting in the backfield, as he leads the team with four tackles-for-loss. Redshirt freshman Devon Key follows with 36 tackles, and redshirt junior Masai Whyte has 30 tackles.  Evan Sayner, Heath Wiggins and Joe Brown all have 18 tackles. Brown also has one of the team’s four sacks and two interceptions on the year, so Charlotte’s Hasaan Klugh will have to be careful if he throws in his direction.

Niner Needs

Charlotte has been progressing steadily towards a win, but remains 0-6. Two weeks ago, the team fell to FIU 30-28 after having its best offensive performance of the year. Last Saturday, the offense regressed significantly, but the defense stepped up and only surrendered 14 points to Marshall. Life is cyclical, and hopefully, this is the game where the team can finally put two halves– and both sides of the ball– together.

Despite not scoring a touchdown last game, the running game is still Charlotte’s biggest strength. Tailback Benny LeMay has rushed for 488 yards at the season’s midpoint, and Klugh has rushed for 301 yards and five touchdowns thus far. While LeMay hasn’t scored a rushing touchdown yet, he had one touchdown reception from Klugh against FIU and still averages 6.3 yards per carry. He’s a bruiser who has often extended Charlotte’s drives when they appeared to have stalled.

On the receiving end, Workpeh Kofa has continued to be a bright spot, along with Mark Quattlebaum. Kofa has 19 receptions for 265 yards and a touchdown, while Quattlebaum has 12 receptions for 133 yards. Trent Bostick has 11 catches for 122 yards, but he, TL Ford II and Uriah LeMay need the ball in their hands more as well.

On defense, Karrington King, Ben DeLuca, Jeff Gemmell, Juwan Foggie and Tyriq Harris have been spectacular. King has 55 total tackles, while DeLuca has 48 (he had 17 tackles last game, a school FBS-record). Linebackers Gemmell and Foggie have 44 and 40 tackles, respectively, and Harris has 25. Gemmell has four tackles-for-loss, and both DeLuca and Harris forced fumbles last game.

Charlotte will need both sides to come together to defeat WKU. The Hilltoppers could have easily lost to UTEP; the Miners’ kicker missed three field goals, including one late in the game that would’ve won the contest. WKU is very beatable, and if the defense can keep them out of the redzone like they did Marshall last weekend, Niners should be able to win. It will be the offense’s responsibility to play their part and not leave the defense out to dry.

WKU has not generated many big plays from scrimmage this year, and White is not producing nearly as well as he was last season. Considering the team’s inconsistencies, and considering that Charlotte is in the most difficult part of their schedule, this game may very well go in Charlotte’s favor. The X-factor will be special teams play. Chris Montgomery has been crucial on kick returns, as he has 425 total return yards and averages 20.2 yards per return. If the special teams unit can generate big returns every time, or perhaps return one for a score, the field position will put the WKU defense on their heels.

Also, when the Niners lost to Georgia State, they had one crucial special teams mistake that resulted in the Panthers scoring after a blocked field goal. The kicking must also be consistent; Nigel Macauley missed a field goal at FIU that would’ve won the game, and he’s also missed a few extra point tries. This game will be evenly matched, as the respective defenses are on fire, while the offenses are both hit-or-miss. The special teams’ play will be critical to both teams.

The game against WKU will kickoff at 4:30 p.m. Eastern time and will be televised on FLO Sports.

Zach Timmons, better known as ZT, is a junior at UNC Charlotte. He is an English major and is also minoring in journalism. In his free time, ZT enjoys writing spoken word poetry, drawing, and making beats.