Where we stand
The Charlotte 49ers have been making strides this season, reaching heights that only attest to how badly they want it.
“We know we’ve got a lot to prove this year. With a season going 1-11, you definitely want to keep it in your rearview mirror, that way you see it everywhere you go. You never want to just let it go, you use that as motivation,” said running back Benny LeMay. “We’re going to do everything we can to fill the stadium.”
The 2017 season was not exactly something to be proud of, but the Niners certainly learned a lot about who they want to be, made a few changes, and have been working harder than ever.
“Coming off of the season we had last year, you wouldn’t expect us to have this type of energy from everybody on both sides of the ball and that’s really big coming from the summer that we had. That’s going to carry into the season and hopefully, we’ll turn this season around and have a winning season,” said linebacker Juwan Foggie.
They don’t quite have a winning season yet, but the Niners hold a 3-4 record overall and a 2-2 record in Conference USA with home conference wins over Old Dominion and Western Kentucky and a win over Fordham to start off the 2018 season.
Charlotte enjoys several names regularly appearing in the postgame reports nearly every weekend, including those such as LeMay, Foggie, Jeff Gemmell and QB Chris Reynolds, prior to his injury during the win against Western Kentucky.
Senior Foggie has caught not only one, but four interceptions in his linebacker position so far this season, having run one of them into the end zone for a return TD and using each of them to help put the Niners in scoring position. Foggie shares No. 2 in interceptions in the NCAA rankings with several other athletes at four interceptions so far this year. He also solely claims the No. 5 spot in interception return yards with 100 yards.
Another LB, Gemmell, is sitting at sitting at sixth in Conference USA with 8.8 tackles per game and 49 solo tackles overall. Just ahead of him is teammate Ben DeLuca resting at fourth with 9.8 tackles per game and 56 solo tackles overall. Foggie, Anthony Butler and Ed Rolle also appear in the top 50 within the conference.
Something else the Niners can easily boast this season is their rushing game, particularly on the defensive side of the ball.
The Rushing Game
The Charlotte Forty-Niners currently stand ranked at No. 6 in the FBS in rushing defense, putting them in front of programs like National Champions Clemson and Alabama and previous opponent Appalachian State. Of course, this is just one area of the game, but the Niners are certainly working to show what they can do this season.
The 49ers lead the conference in rush defense and have held their opponents to no more than 84.14 rushing yards per game, allowing the most of 142 yards to Massachusetts and the most to a conference opponent of 123 by ODU.
Offensively, LeMay rushed for 135 yards in the first game of the season against Fordham and has since rushed two more 100-yard games, including two conference games back-to-back, becoming the first 49er to do so.
The powerhouse junior running back currently ranks second in C-USA and 27th in the NCAA with a rushing yards average of 94.9 and ranks second in C-USA and 25th in all-purpose yards.
LeMay has accumulated 1,571 career rushing yards and sitting at 664 rushing yards, he is only 68 short of reaching his career-high from the 2017 season of 732.
“I’m tired of being at the end of the rope, and we really want to show people that we can be top contenders in this league,” said LeMay.
The Quarterback Question
To Charlotte’s dismay, there has been a lot of back and forth since the 2017 season ended about who would find themselves in the 49er pocket.
Given the Niners’ record of 1-11, obviously many changes, including those to the coaching staff, were made between then and now.
QB Hasaan Klugh finished the 2017 season with nine touchdowns, 10 touchdown passes, 11 interceptions and 1,433 passing yards in total in 10 games.
In the 2018 Spring Game, Reynolds and Klugh were trading places throughout, giving coaches and players a feel for what may work best for those QBs and for the team in the coming season.
Within the seven games that Reynolds was able to play in this season, he threw six touchdown passes, rushed for a single touchdown and collected 1173 passing yards.
Prior to his injury, Chris Reynolds was repeating appearances in postgame stats as well, especially when connecting with receiver Victor Tucker.
Early in the second half of the 49ers’ home game against Western Kentucky, Reynolds was injured and it was unclear whether he would return. By the end of the next week, it had been announced that Reynolds was out indefinitely and QB Evan Shirreffs would be stepping in to get his first start as a Niner against Middle Tennessee.
“It’s always tough,” said head coach Brad Lambert. “We tell our team all the time, you know, that nothing is guaranteed in football, and Chris didn’t think that was going to be his last game and sure enough it is. But, we’ll give Evan a shot, see what he can do.”
Shirreffs first saw action as a Forty-Niner in the 40-14 homecoming win over WKU filling in for an injured Reynolds, going 5-of-7 passing for 118 yards, a passing TD and a rushing TD.
The Niners lost their next game on the road to Middle Tennessee, with Sherriffs throwing two interceptions, a single touchdown pass, and went 20-for-40 passing for 209 yards.
The Niners look next to their second to last home game against Conference USA opponent Southern Miss on Saturday, Oct. 27 at 2 p.m.
Charlotte is 3-1 at home, Southern Miss is 2-0 away, and they walked away with a home victory over the 49ers in 2017 at 66-21.
There are an abundance of differences between that time last year and this coming matchup, not excluding the vast changes in Charlotte coaching staff.
On the Golden Eagles’ end, redshirt senior and previous starting QB Kwadra Griggs, who threw 20-of-27 passing for 221 yards including a 45-yard TD pass and a two-point conversion pass, has only appeared in a single game for his team this season. Griggs was suspended early on in the season due to a “student conduct matter” and has since been reinstated with the team but has yet to contribute positively to the stats since August.
On the other hand, the defense will look to keep a tight lock on quarterback Jack Abraham who has thrown 135-of-184 for 1,532 yards this season in five games.
Charlotte’s No. 6 rush defense prepares for a team averaging a total of 132.2 yards per game.