As they prepare to welcome the Gardner-Webb Runnin’ Bulldogs to Jerry Richardson Stadium, it’s easy for the Charlotte 49ers to focus on that #24/#25 ranking the visitors are coming in with.
But how does Brad Lambert keep his team from fixating too much on the Bulldogs’ ranking?
“The thing I like about our team is how they come to work every day and prepare, and they’ve been pretty even keeled from a preparation standpoint,” he said. “They haven’t been on a ‘roller coaster’ which is really good for us, especially being a young team.
“They’ve really handled their business well, (so) I expect them to come out in practice and prepare extremely hard. The guys know what lies ahead of them Saturday.”
The 4-1 Bulldogs, who have beaten two top-15 teams in Richmond (12-10) and Wofford (3-0), come in ranked highly in FCS in several defensive categories. They’re ranked 5th in yards allowed (275.0) and 2nd in 3rd down defense (25.4%). On average, they have allowed 18.6 points (16th) and 107.8 rushing yards (16th). They have only scored 19.6 points per game, so they’ve definitely been winning with defense (their 55-0 win over the NAIA’s Point last week notwithstanding).
“I think their defensive front is extremely active, and I think that’s why they’re playing really well right now,” Lambert said. “Their defense is going to look similar to ours–we line up the same–and I really think that’s where it all starts for them, defensively–up front.
“Then you throw the age in the back in, with some fourth and fifth year guys in the secondary, and it adds up good for them.”
But Lambert thinks his team is up to the challenge.
“I like our defense. We’re pretty strong down the middle as well…we’re old at safety (and the secondary). I feel good about our defense front and the way they’ve been playing.
“We’re looking forward to this opportunity in having a ranked team come into our stadium, and it should be a lot of fun for our guys.”
Running back Juann Blount was a player that came up in the press conference. He comes in with 488 yards in five games (average of 106.2 per game) and 43 receiving yards and had actually gotten some FBS attention during his recruitment.
“We had actually looked at him when I was at Wake Forest,” Lambert remarked.
Another player that was mentioned was the Bulldogs’ nose guard, O.J. Le’iatua Mau. The 6’2″, 302-pound sophomore from American Samoa has 25 tackles thus far, five more than he had all of last season, and was named the FCS national defensive player of the week after G-W’s win over then-top 10 ranked Wofford on September 21.
“Don’t ask me to pronounce his name,” Lambert joked.
Niners QB Matt Johnson played his high school ball at Maiden High School, a short one-hour trip down U.S. 321 and State Route 150 to the Gardner-Webb campus in Boiling Springs. Did he consider playing there?
“I was actually never spoken to (by them) when I was in high school,” he said. “I jumped at the opportunity to come here, when it came up, definitely prayed about it, figured out that this is where I want to be.
“When I set foot on this campus on summer break (during high school)..I saw something nobody else could see yet. I feel that I made the right decision, definitely.”