The Charlotte 49ers will go into the bye week with the taste of a 45-22 homecoming loss to ranked Division II opponent UNC Pembroke in their mouths. Specifically, to take a quote from head coach Brad Lambert, this one has the taste of humble pie. Here’s what went wrong against the Braves yesterday.
No pass rush: The Braves’ Luke Charles was able to do what he wanted and had all day to do it as the Niners were able to generate very little pressure on the quarterback. UNCP’s experienced offensive line (three redshirt seniors, a true senior and two juniors) was simply no match for Charlotte’s young defensive front. The result? 43-57, 403 yards and three touchdowns, while only being sacked once.
Poor coverage in the slot and on the outside: When the Niners did get pressure, that left tons of space for the slot receivers to do work. Screen passes were well executed along the sidelines and turned into decent gains. While Charlotte was beaten deep only once (a 56-yard touchdown pass to Te’vell Williams in the 3rd), the smaller gains in the slot and down the sidelines hurt them. It’s part of the reason that the Braves had a 2 to 1 edge in time of possession and completed 10 of their 18 third down attempts.
Tackling: Anyone at the game or watching on television can tell you that the Niners did a very poor job tackling yesterday. Small plays became bigger ones with regularity as Niners defenders couldn’t bring their men down. Special teams gave up a 52-yard kick return due to missed tackles. On two occasions, UNCP ball carriers literally moved a pile of Niner defenders into the end zone because no one could stop him. It’s impossible to win football games when fundamentals aren’t executed, and it showed in the loss–unfortunately, it’s been a problem at times throughout the season, not just yesterday.
No rushing attack: Alan Barnwell and Kalif Phillips got very little on the ground (76 yards combined on 20 carries). That speaks for itself. The young offensive line couldn’t open anything up against the Braves’ much older defensive front. While Matt Johnson was OK (not great) yesterday, he and the team would have benefited from a much more stout running game.
Failure to win the turnover battle: Charlotte uncharacteristically turned it over four times against the Braves while forcing two takeaways. Matt Johnson had a first quarter interception; Austin Duke coughed up a completion in the 3rd that went to UNCP; Mikel Hunter muffed a punt early in the 4th; Alan Barnwell had a lost fumble of his own later that quarter.
That’s some of what I spotted from the press box. There’s a lot more to it, and it’s definitely a game to forget for this team, but they have two weeks to prepare for what will be a tough Charleston Southern team on the road.