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‘Nerve-racking:’ What went wrong for Charlotte 49ers at UMass

Massachusetts’ Zak Simon makes a diving catch in the end zone in front of Charlotte’s DJ Anderson as an official looks to confirm the catch for a touchdown during the second quarter of Saturday’s college football game in Amherst, Mass.
Massachusetts’ Zak Simon makes a diving catch in the end zone in front of Charlotte’s DJ Anderson as an official looks to confirm the catch for a touchdown during the second quarter of Saturday’s college football game in Amherst, Mass. AP

The Charlotte 49ers’ first game of the season away from Richardson Stadium went about as poorly as possible. Now the 49ers get to try again on the road.

Charlotte (2-2, 1-0 Conference USA) will travel to Ala.-Birmingham (2-1, 0-0) on Saturday, one week after being trounced 48-31 at Massachusetts. Beating the Blazers at Legion Field is a tall order: They’ve won eight in a row at the venerable stadium, one shy of a program record.

The UMass game was never close, with the Minutemen leading 28-0 before the game was five minutes old. Special teams mistakes, offensive sloppiness and defensive carelessness all contributed to the blowout. It started with UMass’ Marquis Young going 93 yards for a touchdown on the opening kickoff, followed by the 49ers turning the ball over on a bad snap on a punt. Things only got worse from there.

“They jumped on us early,” coach Brad Lambert said. “I don’t know why, we had some guys go the wrong direction on the kickoff and it broke on us. A very, very reliable long snapper (Brian McDonough) had a bad snap on the first punt and Kyle (Corbett) took a knee (to down the ball). Then the floods opened on the defense.”

Were lessons learned?

“The only thing you can do is experience it,” Lambert said. “And this week is no easier. We’ll have to be on point in every aspect.”

Lambert said some of the 49ers’ younger players were intimidated playing the first road game of their careers. Although most of Charlotte’s starters have at least two years of experience, that would seem to point to players like redshirt freshman quarterback Chris Reynolds, redshirt freshman receiver Victor Tucker and sophomore center Jaelin Fisher.

“It’s very nerve-racking,” senior offensive guard Darren Drake said of playing on the road for the first time. “You’ve got to fight through this and that. Some guys haven’t been through this since high school, and there weren’t as many people then as the thousands and thousands there are in college cheering against you. But you have to focus.”

Reynolds, who was sacked four times, completed 23-of-36 passes for 283 yards and three touchdowns against the Minutemen. Tucker had eight catches for 130 yards. But most of those statistics were rolled up after the game was out of hand.

“Chris scrambled into some bad hits and we had some protection issues,” Lambert said. “But he made some plays and was consistent. We’ve got to execute better and protect better.”

Shirreffs throwing

Quarterback Evan Shirreffs, who was competing with Reynolds and Hasaan Klugh for the starting quarterback job in the preseason, continues to recover from an abdominal injury that has kept him out of three games. Lambert said Shirreffs threw some on Monday and might be back for Charlotte’s game Oct. 13 against Western Kentucky (the 49ers are off next week).

Offensive lineman Nate Davis, who was suspended four games for academic eligibility issues, will be back for the UAB game … Defensive tackle Tyler Fain (knee), who missed the UMass game, won’t play against UBA either.

Scouting UAB

▪ The Blazers, in their second season after the program was discontinued for two years, have won eight consecutive games at Legion Field. One more will set a program record.

▪ UAB running back Spencer Brown leads Conference USA with a 99.0 per game rushing average. Brown has two 100-yard games this season, including a 101-yard effort last week in a 31-24 victory against Tulane.

▪ The Blazers are ranked second nationally in pass defense, allowing 123.3 yards per game, and are eighth in pass-efficiency defense (93.9). UAB has 10 sacks this season, with eight different players contributing. The 49ers have allowed 11 sacks.

▪ The Blazers were the only team the 49ers beat during their 1-11 2017 season, winning 25-24 in overtime.

▪ The 49ers and Blazers are among the nation’s leaders in time of possession. Charlotte is third at 37 minutes, 14 seconds per game; UAB is 14th at 34:11.

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