Much has been made of the Charlotte 49ers’ offense and the role it played in the team’s 25-24 comeback victory in overtime two weeks ago against Ala.-Birmingham, snapping a 10-game losing streak.
But the play of Charlotte’s defense was equally crucial, holding the Blazers scoreless on six consecutive possessions in the second half as the rally unfolded. The 49ers did so playing without senior middle linebacker Karrington King, the defense’s signal-caller and emotional leader, who dislocated his knee the week before against Western Kentucky and is out for the season.
King was on crutches on the sidelines as the 49ers held UAB to 181 second-half yards and more importantly, three points. Safety Ben DeLuca also created a turnover by wrestling the ball away from Blazers running back Spencer Brown.
“Everyone collectively as a defense told themselves that we all need to pull together and try to stop these guys,” said coach Brad Lambert, whose 49ers (1-7, 1-3 Conference USA) plays at Old Dominion (2-6, 0-4) Saturday.
But they will have to continue to do it without King. Sophomore Anthony Butler (Vance High) has stepped into King’s spot in the lineup, with sophomore Jeff Gemmell now calling the plays.
“One of the biggest changes I’ve noticed is that Karrington was always the vocal leader on defense,” said Gemmell, who has 57 tackles, including 4.0 for a loss and 3.0 quarterback hurries this season. “He’s a fifth-year senior who knows the defense in-and-out. He’s the guy who breaks us down in the huddle. Karrington was a big motivating factor in how well our defense played. He has always been around, has always been a leader through camp and the season. Not having him out there definitely felt a little different.
“At the same time, he is always around and giving encouragement to the guys on defense. Having him around not only makes a difference on Saturdays, but throughout the week. Seeing him walking around, still happy, gives me a lot of motivation throughout the week.”
The 49ers will face a true freshman Saturday in Old Dominion quarterback Steven Williams. Running back Jeremy Cox rushed for 109 yards and a touchdown in a loss last week against North Texas.
“Anthony Butler and I have had to be a lot more vocal on the defensive side of the ball and the leadership that comes with the position,” Gemmell said. “The biggest thing for me is learning how to be more vocal and making sure I really know the defense.”
David Scott: @davidscott14