The Charlotte 49ers learned some hard lessons last week in a 40-13 loss against N.C. Central.
“The biggest thing the guys saw was how fine a line it is,” said football coach Brad Lambert of Charlotte’s first loss in its inaugural season. “The game is extremely close, then all of a sudden it’s 40-13.”
As the 49ers (2-1) prepare for their first road game Saturday against No. 16 James Madison (2-1), they will work on remedying the long list of errors that plagued them against N.C. Central.
It included seven turnovers, a kickoff return for a touchdown and a blocked field goal, as well as a leaky defense that permitted the Eagles to keep drives alive by converting six of 13 third-down conversions.
In other words, a recipe for getting beat.
After trailing just 6-0 midway through the second quarter, the turnover barrage began. That led to a 13-0 halftime deficit that ballooned to 20-0 when Adrian Wilkins returned the second half’s opening kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown.
“Early in the game there were some third-and-longs that if we could have gotten the defense off the field, how different that could have been for our offense,” Lambert said. “We might have been able to get more of an offensive rhythm.
“And we’re in a position to make a play on a kickoff, where instead of stopping them inside the 20, they go 100 yards. There’s a pick in the end zone. You make mistakes like we did and you see that fine line between winning and losing.”
Many of Charlotte’s problems can be attributed to the team’s youth (15 starters are freshmen). One of those is redshirt freshman quarterback Matt Johnson, who is ranked fifth nationally in the FCS in passing yards (873) but also threw five interceptions against N.C. Central.
“It wasn’t just Matt,” junior offensive tackle Daniel Blitch said. “We’re not going to put (the interceptions) just on him. It was a team ordeal. The offensive line was allowing a little too much pressure on him. I respect him for always having our back, so I have his back on this. We’re not going to point any fingers.”
Said Lambert: “I think Matt will be OK. He’s the kind of person I want taking our snaps. He’s talented enough. He’ll be fine.”
• This originally was to be a bye week for Charlotte. But the 49ers added James Madison in July after canceling a game (originally set for November) with Old Dominion.
Scheduling the 49ers this week helped the Dukes, who, like Charlotte, had open dates Saturday and Oct. 19.
“I left it up to (Dukes coach Mickey Matthews),” Lambert said. “He’s got the postseason in play here, and we don’t. So he really wanted to play this week, and that’s what we’ll do.”
The 49ers’ other open date is Nov. 16, when the ODU game was originally scheduled.
“We’ve got our open dates later,” he said. “We’ll play through this and be fine.”
• Lambert and Matthews are old friends. They were assistants together at Marshall and Georgia for nine seasons before Matthews got the head coaching job at James Madison in 1999 and Lambert went to Wake Forest two years later as linebacker/special teams coach.
49ers offensive line coach Phil Ratliff and strength coach Jim Durning were both on Matthews’ staff when James Madison won the national championship in 2004. Assistant strength and conditioning coach Donny Smith is a former Dukes center.
• Lambert said linebacker Caleb Clayton-Molby and H back Jason Eury, who both missed the N.C. Central game with concussions, are expected to return against James Madison.
• The 49ers are ranked first in the FCS in fumbles recovered (seven) and turnovers gained (12). Charlotte is also third in tackles for loss (9.7 per game) and eighth in total offense (497.0 per game).
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