College Sports

Charlotte 49ers focused on turnovers this fall. But it doesn’t stop there.

Brad Lambert is in his eighth year as the Charlotte 49ers’ football coach.
Brad Lambert is in his eighth year as the Charlotte 49ers’ football coach.

Besides their 1-11 record, several numbers defined the Charlotte 49ers’ football season in 2017.

One was their minus-9 turnover margin, which ranked 11th in the 14-team Conference USA. Charlotte’s defense forced 11 turnovers, including nine forced fumbles, but the offense coughed the ball up 20 times. That included 16 interceptions.

Charlotte coach Brad Lambert said he made turnovers a big focus in the spring.

“Last year, we just weren’t high enough (in turnover margin),” Lambert said Thursday during Day 2 of the 2018 C-USA Media Kickoff. “We didn’t get our hands on the ball from a secondary standpoint. That always leads from what kind of pressure are you getting when you’re rushing four (defenders).

“Are you putting pressure on people or are you having to create that pressure and put people in tough situations on the back end? That’s a real critical piece for us.”

Three of Charlotte’s 2017 losses were by seven points or fewer, and the 49ers were minus-3 in turnover margin in those near-misses. Redshirt junior defensive end Tyriq Harris said he and the rest his unit, which returns nine starters, must create more turnovers to shift those numbers back in their favor.

“This spring, we had to get at least three turnovers in practice. If we didn’t, we had to do gassers (running drills),” Harris said. “We’ve been really, really serious about takeaways, which is something that we’ve been needing anyway.

“It’s more or less just reinforcing the idea that we got to have takeaways to win.”

Another defensive sticking point is that Charlotte had 11 sacks, which tied for the lowest in C-USA.

But, the 49ers also ranked 12th in the league in penalties, an issue when combined with turnovers show how crucial playing with more discipline will be emphasized.

“Most games are lost with a handful of plays,” redshirt junior offensive lineman Cameron Clark said. “Penalties killed us last year, turnovers killed us last year, not being where you’re supposed to be, not doing what you’re coached to do.

“Discipline. That’s what wins us close games. I feel like how you prepare yourself, how you train and how you practice puts you in a situation to excel in those types of moments.”