Even with his team’s Conference USA football opener in two weeks, Charlotte 49ers coach Brad Lambert said he doesn’t want to look too far ahead.
But with the 49ers’ final non-conference game Saturday at Temple, a good performance at Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field could be important for their C-USA opener the following week against Old Dominion.
“We want to play well every time we come out,” Lambert said Tuesday. “We know what’s ahead of us, and our guys are really looking forward to it because we really battled these guys last year.
“It’s important for us to always go out and try to win the game – that’s why we come to work every day. That’s why our guys show up, and that’s why we’re getting on a plane to go up there. We want to play well and win the game.”
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Charlotte (1-2) is coming off Saturday’s 37-19 home loss to Eastern Michigan, a game in which the 49ers’ first-quarter offensive woes continued.
Charlotte had just one first down and 35 total yards in the opening 15 minutes against the Eagles. In three games, the 49ers have been outscored 42-0, with three total first downs, 92 yards offense and 0-for-10 in third-down conversions.
“We’ve got to try to come out of the gate and play well early, but a lot of times that’s dictated by the team you’re playing against, too,” Lambert said.
“When things happen in the drive put you behind the chains, it’s hard to make first downs when you’re third-and-long. But we want to come out and play well early.”
The bright spot has been Charlotte’s defense, which – outside of the loss to then-No. 19 Louisville in the season opener – has kept the 49ers close early in their last two games.
With the Owls returning two key offensive players from last year’s team – quarterback Phillip Walker and first-team all-conference running back Jahad Thomas – Charlotte nose guard Larry Ogunjobi said playing team defense will be vital.
“They’re good players, and they’ve got a good team,” Ogunjobi said of Temple. “We’ve just got to play to our keys and stay focused, and we can take care of business.”
Outside of wide receiver Trent Bostick, still recovering from a concussion, the 49ers will be near full strength against Temple.
Returning to the lineup will be three offensive players – running back Kalif Phillips, left tackle Jamal Covington and right guard Nate Davis. Cornerback Terrance Winchester will return to the starting lineup after reserve duty against Eastern Michigan.
Covington has missed the past two games recovering from a knee injury suffered against Louisville, while Phillips (left hamstring) and Davis (back spasms) sat out last week’s game.
Winchester separated his right shoulder in the 49ers’ season-opening loss to then-No. 19 Cardinals, and he missed Charlotte’s win over Elon.
Lambert also said quarterback Kevin Olsen, who played last week despite a sprained right shoulder suffered against Elon, should be 100 percent for Saturday’s game.
About the Owls
▪ Temple (1-2) enters Saturday’s homecoming game with a 38-0 win over Stony Brook on Sept. 10 and losses to Army (28-13 on Sept. 2) and Penn State (34-27 on Sept. 17).
▪ Temple’s defense is one of the nation’s best – sixth among FBS teams in passing defense (128.7 yards per game), 14th in red zone defense (66.7 percent) and 16th in third-down conversions (36.1 percent).
▪ Temple finished 10-4 in 2015, ending the season with losses to then-No. 19 Houston in the American Athletic Conference championship game and to Toledo in the Boca Raton Bowl.
▪ Temple beat the 49ers 37-3 last season at Richardson Stadium. The game was played in a driving rainstorm that helped Charlotte keep it close early, as it trailed 10-3 at halftime.
Wednesday marks an anniversary in the history of Charlotte’s football program: On Sept. 21, 2012, the 49ers held their first full-pads, full-contact practice.