Thursday brings another edition of “Three Downs”–three questions with a writer/media member covering the Charlotte 49ers football team’s next opponent. Saturday brings UNC Pembroke, so we reached out to The Robesonian‘s sports editor Scott Schlaufman to get his thoughts on the matchup.
1. Who are the impact players on offense and defense for the Braves?
Fred Williams tends to be the heart of the UNCP defense. He’s a sixth-year senior who had to sit out last year because of an injury and is trying to make the most of it this time around. He leads the team in tackles and tackles for a loss and is one of four Braves with two sacks. No matter where the play goes, he seems to end up there. Other major standouts include lineman Matt Turner, who had a breakout game with three sacks against Wingate two weeks ago, and defensive back L.J. Stroman, who has limited the chances for opposing receivers. He’s got two interceptions, one of which he took back for a touchdown.
A lot of the offensive success is a result of the chemistry between Luke Charles and Te’vell Williams. Charles has been the starter for three years and has a good eye for the field. Teams have started to clamp down on Williams in the red zone, so he hasn’t many touchdown chances this year. It’s allowed John Rich to get those scores instead. He’s got six touchdowns after zero last year. The run game has relied on a handful of different backs.
2. They have several third and fourth year players on the squad, especially on the o-line. How has that helped from not only a game play but a leadership standpoint?
Not only are there third and fourth year players, but there are a few fifth and six year players who are getting extra chances because of medical redshirts and situations like that. I look at the Braves as a team with a lot of drive. The longest tenured players were part of the 2009 team that went to the Division II playoffs, so they’d love a trip back and the guys who weren’t on that team want that first trip. It’s a team that has a lot it wants to prove.
That ends up manifesting itself in the little things. Even with a few injuries that have forced the offensive line to shuffle around, the Braves have only allowed five sacks. You can also see the chemistry between Luke Charles and his receivers evolving. Defenses know to look out for Te’vell Williams and Charles has found gaps elsewhere as a result of that coverage.
Same thing goes for the defense. They study film, they know what to look for, and with a game plan like they had against Wingate two weeks ago, it can result in limited yardage allowed and quite a few turnovers.
3. Do you get the sense that the team is approaching this as a chance to really make a statement against an FCS team that’s headed to FBS in a few years?
Any team in UNCP’s position would love to get a win against Charlotte. It will be the biggest stadium the Braves play in all year and a win against an FCS team is always a feather in the cap of a Division II squad.
It’s also notable that UNCP is in the midst of their first 4-0 start since the program’s reinstatement, so another win would add to that excitement.
The Braves know that a win against Charlotte is easier said than done. Even in year one, the 49ers have put together a very strong team that will test UNCP physically and in pure skill. UNCP’s schedule includes both teams from last year’s D2 championship game and I’d still guess that this will be one of the toughest tests the Braves face. They’ve had an extra week to prepare, so we’ll see how it plays out.