The Charlotte 49ers beat Old Dominion 28-25 in their Conference USA opener Thursday. Here are five takeaways from the game for the 49ers (2-1, 1-0), whose next game is Sept. 22 at Massachusetts:
Must win? Yes
If his program has improved and progressed as coach Brad Lambert has hoped, the ODU game was essentially a must win for the 49ers, who went 1-11 in 2017. After winning a game they were supposed to win (Fordham) and losing against a far-more talented team (Appalachian State), the 49ers needed to show they could handle one of their C-USA peers.
The Monarchs (0-3, 0-2) were eminently beatable, so a loss might have sent Charlotte’s season careening in the wrong direction. Although the 49ers made things difficult for themselves in several spots, they needed to show they were the better team and they did.
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Redshirt freshman quarterback Chris Reynolds had another solid game, completing 23 of 34 passes for 202 yards and a touchdown. Reynolds doesn’t have the strongest of arms (his longest completion was 20 yards), but he’s accurate and continues to make good decisions. He’s only been intercepted once and has completed 63.2 percent of his passes.
Reynolds also shows excellent pocket awareness and has run out of some difficult situations. Reynolds also kept the chains moving for the 49ers, who converted 9-of-17 third downs (another huge improvement for Charlotte from last season).
“That guy was a baller,” ODU linebacker Lawrence Garner told The Virginian-Pilot.
Reynolds’ strong play meant backup Hasaan Klugh, last year’s starter who got in for several plays against Appalachian State, didn’t get in the game.
Tailback Benny LeMay ran for 93 yards on 25 carries. On two occasions, he hurdled torpedoing ODU tacklers to pick up extra yardage. Because of new tackling rules prohibiting hits to the head, LeMay said he knew the Monarchs’ defenders would be coming low. So over them he went.
With backup Aaron McAllister (60 yards and a touchdown) also playing well, Charlotte’s running attack was stout all game. The 49ers average 162.3 yards per game rushing.
Why no field goal?
Leading 28-18 and with a fourth-and-4 at the Monarchs’ 20 with about 6 1/2 minutes left, Lambert elected to go for it rather than have reliable freshman Jonathan Cruz kick a field goal. Instead, Reynolds threw an incompletion in the end zone to Mark Quattlebaum (with ODU’s Justin Noye making a great play to break it up ).
Lambert said kicking a field goal would have kept it a two-possession game, so trying for a first down (or touchdown) would likely have finished the Monarchs off. As it was, ODU took over and drove 80 yards for a touchdown, cutting the score to 28-25 with 2 minutes, 57 seconds left. The 49ers recovered an onside kick and ran off five plays to end the game.
A defensive emphasis for Charlotte this season under new coordinator Glenn Spencer has been creating turnovers. So far, the 49ers have intercepted three passes and recovered two fumbles. The 49ers had two interceptions in all of 2017. Chief ball hawk so far has been senior linebacker Juwan Foggie, who has two interceptions. Foggie carried around a “turnover backpack” after the game, given to players who recover a fumble or have an interception. Junior defensive back Marquavis Gibbs also had an interception in the third quarter.