The Charlotte 49ers’ defense has played well against the run this season, allowing opponents a paltry 2.3 yards per play.
But a substantial test comes Saturday, when Charleston Southern and its multiple formation triple-option offense comes to Richardson Stadium to face the 49ers at noon.
The Buccaneers, led by fullback Christian Reyes, befuddled the 49ers in a 36-14 victory last season, Charlotte’s first season in football. Running the option out of the shotgun formation, the Buccaneers rolled up 548 yards in total offense, with Reyes getting 181 of them on the ground.
But the 49ers (3-1) are more seasoned now. And they say they learned their lessons against the Buccaneers (4-0) a year ago.
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“What hurt us last year, was a lot of people were saying, ‘I think I’m going to the ball,’ or, ‘I think somebody else is going go the ball,’ ” Charlotte sophomore defensive end Brandon Banks said. “Now we know we have each other’s back. I know if I don’t make the play, there’s somebody I know will be behind me who will. It’s not just me and you; it’s just one team.”
The Charleston Southern defeat of a year ago wasn’t the only time the 49ers and their 3-4 defense gave up lots of yards and points. They finished the season allowing 439.0 yards and 31.2 points per game. And while those numbers are down this year (353.0 yards, 14.2 points), Charlotte is just now hitting a tough stretch of schedule that includes several of the Football Championship Subdivision’s better teams. Another warning sign: Charlotte also allowed 454 yards against Elon last week.
“Our defensive front is playing really well,” 49ers coach Brad Lambert said. “We’re making it tough on teams to run on us.”
Charleston Southern hasn’t gotten its run game going yet this year. The Buccaneers average 185.8 yards per game, with Reyes averaging 47.8.
“It’s more just our attitude,” Charleston Southern coach Jamey Chadwell said. “We’ve had chances to run the ball with success in all of our games, really, but it’s come back to a missed read or a missed this or that. It’s really not so much people taking anything away from us, but it’s more we just haven’t executed like we were.”
The 49ers will continue to start two freshmen at the inside linebacker spot. Karrington King and Dustin Crouser are replacing injured Nick Cook and Caleb Clayton-Molby.
The Buccaneers are more than a running team. Quarterback Austin Charles has a passer-efficiency rating of 165.39, which leads the Big South and is seventh nationally.
“What makes them so unique is all the different formations they use out of the option,” Lambert said. “It’s different from playing Navy or Georgia Tech, because they play it out of the (shot)gun.”
So it’s a unique challenge for the 49ers.
“We’ve got to play assignment football,” Banks said. “(Reyes) is the best back we’ve faced this year. But we’re honing down so much on what runners are doing now. That’s the first responsibility of the defense line. We’ve got to eat it up.”