The Charlotte 49ers got off to a horrendous start Saturday against Massachusetts, losing to the Minutemen 49-31 in Amherst, Mass. Here are five takeaways from the game, in which the 49ers trailed 28-0 early in the first quarter:
Not remotely ready
Whatever progress the 49ers (2-2) appeared to have made over the first three games of the season went out the window early. Charlotte didn’t come prepared to play against a UMass (2-3) team that had lost three in a row, was allowing 41.8 points per game and was starting its third-string quarterback. Given the stakes this season for coach Brad Lambert, it’s hard to understand how this team won’t give at least its full effort from the start every week.
“That’s on me.,” Lambert said. “I own this one with the team.”
The 49ers play another team that will be more-than eager to put them away early this Saturday when they travel to Birmingham, Ala., to face UAB (2-1), the only team to lose to Charlotte last season.
The problems began quickly with two glaring special-teams errors. The Minutemen’s Marquis Young took the opening kickoff untouched 93 yards for a touchdown. After the 49ers couldn’t pick up a first down on their first possession, punter Kyle Corbett touched his knee to the ground while fielding a low snap from Brian McDonough. That downed the ball at the UMass 20 where, after Charlotte linebacker Alex Highsmith jumped offside on the first play, the Minutemen scored on a 15-yard pass from Michael Curtis (who was playing because of injuries to the two quarterbacks ahead of him) to Andy Isabella. That made it 14-0 with 12 minutes, 47 seconds left in the first quarter. Those special teams miscues put the 49ers in a hole from which they couldn’t dig out.
The score quickly became 28-0 and there were still more than eight minutes left in the first quarter. The 49ers then appeared to settle down, and perhaps had a glimmer of hope late in the second quarter when Benny LeMay scored on a 1-yard run. That cut the margin to a potentially manageable three touchdowns with more than a half to play. But the Minutemen immediately answered with another touchdown to kill any momentum Charlotte had. Although Jonathan Cruz hit a 33-yard field goal as time expired, it was 35-10 at halftime and a comeback wasn’t happening.
Third-down problems return
Charlotte was converting 49 percent of its third-down plays through the first three games of the season. But the 49ers, who were last in the nation in that statistic in 2017, dropped to 33 percent (5-of-15) against UMass. Much of that was because of the Minutemen’s domination of Charlotte’s offensive line, which allowed redshirt freshman quarterback Chris Reynolds to be sacked four times and limited the 49ers to 81 yards rush, half of what they had been averaging entering the game. Good news for Charlotte this week: Standout offensive lineman Nate Davis, suspended for the first four games, returns.
A few bright spots
As troubling as the game was on all fronts, there were a few signs of hope. Reynolds was resilient, if nothing else, hanging tough with UMass defenders in his face for much of the game. He completed 23-of-34 passes for 283 yards and a touchdown and showed some arm strength that hadn’t been displayed earlier. Reynolds and redshirt freshman receiver Victor Tucker continue to connect well — Tucker caught eight passes for 130 yards, including a diving 46-yarder. Safety Ben DeLuca, who led the nation in forced fumbles in 2017, punched the ball loose in the fourth quarter and the 49ers recovered.