Charlotte 49ers football coach Brad Lambert said a “couple of plays” in each game is why his team is battling to end a five-game losing streak.
“Our guys are working hard, and they are fighting in every game,” Lambert said Wednesday. “But we’ve got to learn to finish – to make a play when we need it.”
The 49ers (2-5) are in their first season at college football’s top level (Football Bowl Subdivision), and Lambert said the team has a small margin of error against more-experienced opponents. That margin will be even smaller Saturday, when Charlotte entertains Marshall (7-1) in a 3:30 p.m. game at Richardson Stadium.
“Our work ethic is great,” Lambert said. “But we can’t drop passes. Or if we have a first down at the 2, we have to push it in.”
The 49ers were in position to win two Conference USA games – a 17-7 loss Sept. 26 to Florida Atlantic and a 37-34 setback Oct. 17 to Old Dominion. But Lambert says making a few key plays in games such as Saturday’s 44-10 loss to Southern Mississippi could make a difference.
With the game scoreless in the first quarter, Charlotte had a first down at the Golden Eagles’ 2. But the 49ers only got a field goal. And after Southern Mississippi fumbled a punt in the second quarter, the 49ers turned the ball over on their first play. Lambert said scoring touchdowns in both those cases could have created a difference in momentum.
“We’ve got to learn how to finish it out,” he said. “It’s a lot of little things that can really change a game.”
Senior defensive lineman Devon Johnson says the 49ers remain upbeat.
“We’re really hungry for that first (conference) win,” Johnson said. “We’re still working hard, and we feel we can do it.”
Junior offensive lineman Casey Perry echoes Johnson’s upbeat attitude.
“The locker room atmosphere has remained consistent,” he said. “We are focused on getting better each game.”
Lambert acknowledges that the 49ers face a big test this week. Marshall has a victory this season over Purdue of the Big Ten and has been a regular in recent seasons in bowl games.
“I told our team that this is something we can measure our program against,” Lambert said.
Injury report: Offensive lineman Eugene German was involved in a car wreck Saturday night and suffered minor injuries, Lambert said. His status for Saturday’s game is uncertain.
Lambert said linebacker Nick Cook “is banged up” and running back Andrew Buie is recovering from an ankle sprain. Buie likely won’t play, and Cook’s status is questionable.
Tough schedule: Charlotte certainly can’t be accused of making an easy transition from Football Championship Subdivision to FBS. Seven of the program’s 11 FBS opponents this season are bowl-bound, according to this week’s projections by ESPN. Unbeaten Temple and this week’s foe, Marshall, are bowl-eligible with seven victories.
The network also projects Middle Tennessee, Florida International, Southern Mississippi, Kentucky and Rice will be in bowl games. The 49ers travel to Florida International on Nov. 7, to Kentucky on Nov. 21, and to Rice on Nov. 28. They lost to Middle Tennessee, Temple and Southern Mississippi.
Soccer honors: Charlotte’s Kyle Parker is the Conference USA Offensive Player of the Week. He had three goals in two 49er shutout victories last week. The 49ers face Kentucky in a first-place showdown at 8 p.m. Saturday on the Charlotte campus. That match will begin about an hour after the football game.