The Charlotte 49ers’ 30-13 loss Saturday against Marshall eliminated them from contention in Conference USA’s East Division and means they’ll have to win their final two games to become bowl eligible.
Here are five takeaways from the game, which saw the 49ers drop to 4-6 overall and 3-3 in the league:
Road woes continue
As improved as the 49ers have been, it’s been their inability to win on the road that might ultimately define this season. Charlotte is 0-5 away from Richardson Stadium and even a single victory in any one of those games would have dramatically altered the possibilities for this team. The 49ers did play better on the road as the season progressed, but they were never really a position to win any of those games.
There remains a possibility, with a victory this week at home against Florida International (7-3, 5-1), that the 49ers could go to Florida Atlantic on Nov. 24 with a chance to become bowl eligible for the first time in program history. They’d have to figure out how to win on the road, an equation they haven’t solved.
Defending the run
Charlotte entered the game leading C-USA in rushing defense (82.0 yards per game). The 49ers allowed the Thundering Herd a season-high 147 rushing yards, with Garet Morrell picking up 116 yards (also a season-high against Charlotte) and a touchdown.
Meanwhile, Marshall played up to its rushing-defense billing (ranked second behind Charlotte entering the game), but holding the 49ers to 113 net yards rushing (although a lot of that was attributed to the six sacks Marshall had on Charlotte quarterbacks Evan Shirreffs and Hasaan Klugh).
More special team problems
Although freshman Jonathan Cruz made two more field goals (40 and 35 yards), Charlotte’s special teams struggled - again. This time, a blocked punt led to a Marshall touchdown. This adds to a list of two punts and one kickoff returned for touchdowns against the 49ers.
The return game is another spot where the 49ers have been anything but impressive and it was more of the same against Marshall. Mark Quattlebaum, who averages 4.8 yards per return, returned one punt for 9 yards Saturday. Aaron McAllister had one kick return for 20 yards - slightly better than Charlotte’s season average of 17.5.
49ers coach Brad Lambert is sticking with his stated goal of keeping Klugh, last season’s starter at quarterback, involved. Klugh saw plenty of action against Marshall, but, like Sherriffs, was under heavy pressure much of the time. Klugh’s stat line was unique: He dropped back to pass four times - he completed two passes for minus-2 yards and was sacked the other two times. Klugh, who gives defenses a different look with his running ability, finished with 7 yards rushing.
Bowl eligibility’s still possibility
So what’s at stake Saturday against FIU, which beat Texas-San Antonio 45-7 Saturday? The 49ers are trying to avoid a late-season collapse similar to 2016, when, in another attempt to become bowl eligible, they lost their final three games on the way to a 4-8 season.
FIU is a half-game behind division-leader Middle Tennessee (7-3, 6-1), which, after a non-conference game Saturday at Kentucky, plays at West leader Ala.-Birmingham on Nov. 24. FIU closes at home against Marshall (6-3, 4-2). FIU owns the tiebreaker against Middle Tennessee by virtue of the Owls’ 24-21 victory against the Blue Raiders in October.