The Charlotte 49ers are a football team in need of something good to happen.
The 49ers have lost their first five games in a variety of ways: predictably blown out by a Power 5 opponent (Kansas State); faltering against Football Bowl Subdivision opponents they felt they should beat (Eastern Michigan and Georgia State); and losing close, high-scoring games to two others (N.C. A&T and Florida International).
Next up for Charlotte (0-5, 0-1 Conference USA) is Marshall (3-1, 0-0) at 6 p.m. Saturday in Richardson Stadium. The Herd had an impressive victory last week at Cincinnati and boasts some of C-USA’s top offensive players in quarterback Chase Litton and tight end Ryan Yurachek.
“We’re trying to keep everybody positive,” said 49ers junior H back R.J. Tyler, who caught a team-high four passes for 34 yards in a 30-29 loss against FIU last Saturday. “We can’t let everybody get down in the locker room. We’ve got to keep a good spirit in the locker room. Of course, players are going to get down. But we’ve got to press on; we can’t go back and change it.”
The 49ers were in a pretty ideal position to beat FIU, jumping to a 26-7 lead in the second quarter. After the Panthers rallied and wiped out the lead, Nigel Macauley missed a 48-yard field goal attempt with 37 seconds left that might have won it for the 49ers.
“It’s never easy to have a rough start,” said sophomore free safety Ben DeLuca. “We’ve got to focus on each of us doing our part. We can’t focus on others making a play or be worried that they’re not doing their part. There’s 11 of us on the field. If each of the 11 does what he’s supposed to do, we’ll be fine.”
Said Tyler: “Like coach (Brad Lambert) says, ‘Build a wall and everybody has their own little piece to focus on.’ Just focus on doing what I can do and make sure I’m holding up my end.”
The 49ers’ ground game is coming around, with sophomore running back Benny LeMay rushing for 178 yards against FIU and 153 against N.C. A&T. Quarterback Hasaan Klugh ran for 107 yards against FIU in offensive coordinator Greg Adkins’ first game after being promoted. LeMay (90.0 yards per game) and Klugh (59.4) are both in C-USA’s top-10 in rushing. Klugh’s 190.6 yards per game in total offense ranks ninth in the league.
The Marshall-Charlotte game will always have more meaning than most, with several 49ers coaches having close connections to the Herd. Lambert and Adkins are former Marshall assistants, while Adkins and strength coach Jim Durning played at Marshall. Phil Ratliff, a 49ers offensive line coach who died unexpectedly in 2015, was an All-American and former assistant at Marshall.
In 2016, the 49ers followed up another one-point loss against FIU (27-26) with a surprising 27-24 victory at Marshall. That victory against the Herd was the third in four games for Charlotte.
Looking at Marshall
Litton, who averages 253.5 yards passing, has talented receivers. Tyre Brady leads C-USA with 101.8 receiving yards per game, and Marcel Williams has 22 catches for 212 yards. Yurachek, a 6-foot-3, 239-pound senior from Myrtle Beach, was a preseason All-C-USA selection and caught three touchdown passes in a 38-21 victory against Cincinnati.
The kicking game might also be crucial. Marshall’s Keion Davis has returned two kickoffs for a touchdown. Marshall’s Kaare Vedvik (44.6-yard average) and Charlotte’s Arthur Hart (43.6) are ranked 2-3 in the league.