The Charlotte 49ers have reached the mid-point of their college football season as one of just five programs in the Football Bowl Subdivision that have yet to win a game.
There are questions to be answered throughout for the 49ers (0-6, 0-2 Conference USA), who chase their first victory Saturday at reigning league champion Western Kentucky (3-2, 1-0).
Here are five of the most pressing questions facing the 49ers:
Can the offense hit its stride?
The 49ers have been ahead (29 points against Florida International) and down (three against Marshall) offensively in their first two league games under recently promoted coordinator Greg Adkins. With a play-making quarterback in Hasaan Klugh, rugged running back in Benny LeMay and an experienced line, the 49ers average 313.0 yards in total offense. But after gaining 505 yards against FIU in their league opener, the 49ers were stymied by Marshall in a 14-3 defeat.
Balancing Klugh’s ability to run with his limited passing range will continue to be perhaps Adkins’ top priority. And at least one receiver – whether it’s Trent Bostick, Workpeh Kofa, T.L. Ford or Mark Quattlebaum - needs to emerge as a game-breaker to help Klugh and his average (at best) arm strength.
Can the defense keep it up?
The Marshall game was easily the best performance of the season for the 49ers’ defense. Although the Herd rolled up 404 yards in total offense, Charlotte had big stops at opportune times to keep the game close. But a bending-not-breaking defense while an offense continues to find itself is not a recipe for success.
Can the special teams become special?
If games are close – and the 49ers have lost their first two C-USA games by an average of 6.0 points – then special teams can often come into play. Kicker Nigel Macauley has been anything but dependable, making just 2 of 7 field goal attempts (although one was tipped against Marshall). Arthur Hart has developed into one of the league’s top punters, averaging 42.9 yards per punt. His ability to drop the ball inside the 20 (he’s done it 10 times) is a valuable weapon.
How much depth is there?
As Charlotte develops a roster that can compete on the FBS level, depth will continue to be a factor – especially when injuries come into play. The 49ers might be without LeMay against the Hilltoppers, which would mean that true freshman Kam Duncan could be pressed into duty. Coach Brad Lambert said he had hoped to redshirt Duncan, who was highly regarded coming out of high school. The secondary’s depth will also be tested without junior strong safety Ed Rolle and senior cornerback Anthony Covington out with injuries. Junior Quinton Jordan and junior Denzel Irvin will fill in. Sophomore linebacker Anthony Butler will play the first half in place of starter Jeff Gemmell, who had a targeting penalty against Marshall.
Is there a victory out there?
There could be, maybe even Saturday against a Western Kentucky team that struggled to beat Texas-El Paso 15-14 last week (the Miners are also winless). It could also come next week at home against Ala.-Birmingham (which has resurrected its program this season after it was shut down for two years), although the Blazers have already won three games. After that, only one opponent that remains on the 49ers’ schedule (Florida Atlantic) is above .500 in C-USA play. But it’s hard to see the 49ers favored in any of them, especially if what now is an FBS-long nine-game losing streak (over two seasons) drags on.
David Scott: @davidscott14