The Charlotte 49ers continue to force more turnovers than any other team in the NCAA’s Football Championship Subdivision.
The problem the 49ers are having, however, is taking advantage of all those opponents’ miscues.
Take last Saturday, when Charlotte (2-2) recovered three fumbles and had two interceptions against 14th-ranked James Madison. The 49ers could convert just one of those turnovers – a fumble on the opening kickoff – into points in the 34-7 Dukes victory.
“That’s crazy,” said coach Brad Lambert, whose team plays at Presbyterian (1-2) on Saturday. “We came out on the plus side of turnover margin. We tried to capitalize, but we came up empty. We’re doing a good job of hawking the ball, but we’ve got to find ways to get points out of that.”
The 49ers have forced 17 turnovers and have recovered 10 fumbles, leading the nation in both categories.
It took just two plays for Charlotte to take a quick 7-0 lead after James Madison’s Coby Branch fumbled the opening kickoff. But Charlotte could do nothing with the other four turnovers – punting three times and fumbling the ball back to the Dukes once.
The 49ers were able to produce only one touchdown out of three N.C. Central fumbles a week earlier in a 40-13 loss against the Eagles.
Creating the turnovers is no accident. At practice, the 49ers defense has a “turnover circuit,” where players work on stripping the ball, recovering fumbles and going for interceptions.
“We practice that every single day,” said cornerback Greg Cunningham Jr. “And no matter what the score in the game, we try to go out there and get the ball back for the offense.”
The offense, which has struggled in the losses against N.C. Central and James Madison, has 13 turnovers of its own. That translates into a 1.0-turnover margin; good, but not great.
“It’s definitely frustrating,” said receiver Mikel Hunter. “We watch the defense do its job over and over and (the offense) comes up short.”
The 49ers’ turnover numbers have caught the attention of Presbyterian coach Harold Nichols.
“We’ve got to have good communication on offense,” Nichols said. “If you have poor communication up front or with your quarterback, it’s going to cause problems. They do a good job of moving around their defense and putting you in difficult situations.”
• Linebacker Micah Bryan and offensive tackle Daniel Blitch suffered concussions against James Madison and will be evaluated later this week.
• Instant replay will be available for Saturday’s Charlotte-Presbyterian game, the first of seven games involving Big South teams that will use the replay process the rest of the season. The Big South is one of three FCS leagues to use instant replay during the regular season.
Lambert said he won’t have a problem remembering that replay will be available Saturday. He grew accustomed to using it when he was defensive coordinator at Wake Forest.
• Safety Martay Mattox’s 18 tackles against James Madison were a season high for Charlotte. Mattox also fumbled when he was used on offense on a direct-snap “wildcat” play.
“I told him if he wanted to back out there and play defense so badly again, he didn’t have to fumble it,” Lambert said with a laugh.
Scott: 704-358-5889; Twitter: @davidscott14
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