The Charlotte 49ers’ defense struggled again Saturday, this time in a 59-34 loss against third-ranked Coastal Carolina at Richardson Stadium.
The Chanticleers (10-0) rolled up 690 total yards in handing the 49ers (3-6) their sixth consecutive loss. And it was frustrating enough for 49ers coach Brad Lambert that he hinted that late-season changes might be in the works for his beleaguered defense, which is allowing an average of 33.4 points and 493.8 yards per game this season. The 49ers are scoring 34.7 points per game during the losing streak.
“We’ve got to look at what we’re doing, how we’re doing it, who’s doing it,” said Lambert, whose defensive unit features eight freshmen and sophomore starters and has replaced at least two injured starters for the season. “Everything. If we have to scale back and do less, that’s what we’re going to do.”
The Chanticleers’ 690 yards was the most gained in Coastal Carolina history and the most allowed in Charlotte history. The 49ers allowed 689 yards in a double-overtime loss to The Citadel in October.
Saturday’s game was played in front of a crowd of 12,052, the lowest in Charlotte’s one-plus seasons of football.
An early hint of things to come occurred on Coastal’s first possession, after 49ers punter Arthur Hart’s punt had been downed at the Chanticleers’ 1.
Ten plays and 99 yards later, Chanticleers quarterback Alex Ross scored on a 3-yard run and the rout was on. Coastal converted two third-and-longs on the drive and averaged 9.9 yards per play. The Chanticleers were eight-of-14 on third-down conversions.
“The biggest thing is third down,” said Lambert. “We’re putting ourselves in good position on third and long, but we can’t get off the field.”
The 49ers, who played without injured starting quarterback Matt Johnson, were their usual productive selves elsewhere, even against an opponent as formidable as Coastal. Running back Kalif Phillips went over the 1,000-mark for the season during a 51-yard touchdown run and Demarrell Alexander scored on a 95-yard kickoff return. Lee McNeill, Johnson’s replacement, overcame a shaky start and completed 18 of 33 passes for 236 yards and two touchdowns. He didn’t throw an interception and ran for another score.
“It was an excellent opportunity for me against an excellent team,” said McNeill. “I can learn a lot from this going forward.”
In the first five games of the losing streak – in which the 49ers lost by an average margin of 6.2 points -- the 49ers covered up their defensive deficiencies with an offense that could score from anywhere on the field at anytime. But with Johnson standing on the sideline with his jersey and gray sweat pants, that capability was severely diminished.
And there really was nothing the 49ers could do to stop the Chanticleers.
After scoring on that first drive, the Chanticleers capitalized on a Phillips fumble when De’Angelo Henderson scored on a 1-yard run. The Chanticleers were up 35-0 before McNeill hit freshman T.L. Ford on a 5-yard scoring pass late in the first half.
Phillips, who finished with 159 yards and now has 1,081 for the season, scored on a 51-yard run in the third quarter that narrowed the score to 42-14. Alexander’s kickoff return for a touchdown was the second in program history.
Next up for the 49ers is another unbeaten team in Wesley (Del.), which is 9-0 and Division III’s fourth-ranked team. The Wolverines beat the 49ers 35-28 last season.