The Charlotte 49ers are waiting for that day when all three phases of their game – offense, defense and special teams – mesh. Until then, there will be games like last Saturday, when a solid defensive effort wasn’t enough to prop up a shaky offense and inconsistent kicking game in a 14-3 Conference USA loss against Marshall at Richardson Stadium.
Those kinds of uneven efforts have continued to plague the 49ers, who are winless in six games this season but have been frustratingly competitive in losing their first two league games by an average of six points.
“We’ve got to keep honing,” said coach Brad Lambert, whose team plays at reigning C-USA champion Western Kentucky (3-2, 1-1) Saturday. “If we get to the fourth quarter and look up and you’re winning the turnover margin and you limit big plays, then you have a chance to win the game.”
That’s where the 49ers found themselves against Marshall, still alive despite trailing by 11 points entering the fourth quarter. The 49ers would end up forcing three Thundering Herd turnovers (recovering two, although one came during an interception return by Marshall’s Chris Jackson) and limiting Marshall’s offense to nothing longer than a 37-yard gain.
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But it wasn’t enough, as Charlotte’s offense – after scoring 29 points against Florida International in the C-USA opener the week before -- was unable to manage anything other than a 30-yard field goal by Nigel Macauley in the third quarter.
“I liked that we got off the field,” Lambert said of the defense. “We created a turnover. I thought our guys up front played extremely well.”
Senior linebacker Karrington King, who had nine tackles against Marshall, said the defense wants to build off the effort against the Herd and take that to Western Kentucky. The 14 points Marshall scored were the fewest the 49ers have allowed against a Football Bowl Subdivision team in their two-plus seasons of playing on that level.
“That’s what we always try to do,” King said. “We’ve just got to finish the game. We have the offense’s back, just like they have ours.”
The 49ers are one of five winless teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision, along with Baylor, Massachusetts, Georgia Southern and C-USA’s Texas-El Paso. The 49ers and UTEP don’t play this season.
Also, the 49ers’ nine-game losing streak stretching over two seasons is the longest current streak in the FBS.
Lambert said leading rusher Benny LeMay is day-to-day after suffering a concussion against Marshall. If LeMay doesn’t play against Western Kentucky, redshirt freshman Aaron McAlister and true freshman Kameron Duncan will fill in.
McAlister played well in relief of LeMay against Marshall, picking up 34 yards on seven carries. Lambert said he had been hoping to redshirt Duncan, but after backup running back Robert Washington left the team recently, the chances of Duncan getting playing time increased.
Offensive lineman Chris Brown (ankle) and defensive backs Ed Rolle (knee) and Denzel Irvin (hamstring) are also nursing injuries this week.
Scouting Western Kentucky
The Hilltoppers, under first-year coach Mike Sanford, won their first league game, a 15-14 squeaker at UTEP last week. Sanford replaced Jeff Brohm, who took the head-coaching position at Purdue.
Senior quarterback Mike White averages 251.0 passing yards per game, but only has two touchdown passes and a so-so 121.6 pass-efficiency rating.
Linebacker Joel Iyiegbuniwe is seventh in the conference in tackles (8.4 per game) and cornerback DeAndre Farris leads the league in passes defended with 1.8 per game.
David Scott: @davidscott14