Football

Charlotte 49ers were impressive against UMass. Clemson won’t care.

The Charlotte 49ers packed the stat sheet with some eye-popping numbers Saturday in a 52-17 victory against Massachusetts at Richardson Stadium.

The 49ers’ 52 points were the most they’ve scored against a Football Bowl Subdivision opponent. It was the third consecutive game Charlotte (2-1) had scored 40-plus points, the first time that’s happened in the program’s seven-year history. Charlotte rolled up 533 yards in total offense, its second-highest total at home in program history.

Impressive numbers, yes.

You know who won’t be impressed? Clemson won’t be impressed.

That’s who the 49ers play next: Saturday under the lights at the top-ranked Tigers’ Memorial Stadium.

The defending national champions will be a challenge like nothing a Charlotte team has faced before. Although the 49ers have played four other teams from so-called “Power 5” conferences (Tennessee in 2018, Kansas State in 2017, Louisville in 2016 and Kentucky in 2015), Clemson (3-0) is in another matter altogether.

“I’ve got a plan for how I want to handle the week, but we’ve got some really, really good football players who are really excited to go compete on a national scale,” first-year 49ers coach Will Healy said. “It will be great publicity for our program, playing the No. 1 team in the country at their place at 7:30 on the ACC Network.”

The 49ers will go to Clemson having completed the first quarter of the season about where they thought they’d be. They didn’t dispatch of the Football Championship Subdivision’s Gardner-Webb quite the way they wanted in a 49-28 season-opening victory. But they put a scare into Appalachian State the following week in a 56-41 loss. UMass and its sieve-like defense was a game the 49ers figured — and needed — to win convincingly.

“You’re never where you want to be after Week 3,” Healy said. “You hope you haven’t peaked at Week 3. But the whole week (after the Appalachian loss) was the response I wanted. This is an extremely resilient group.”

Saturday, he 49ers jumped out to a 28-0 lead against the Minutemen (the same margin UMass led Charlotte by in the first quarter of a 49-31 victory last season). Quarterback Chris Reynolds continued to excel, completing 10-of-12 passes for 155 yards and two touchdowns. Running back Benny LeMay’s 113 yards led a crunching ground game (338 yards).

Charlotte is developing more depth, and that showed with backup running backs Aaron McAllister (94 yards and a touchdown) and Ishod Finger (71 yards, two TDs). Reynolds and Brett Kean (who was 3-for-3 for 40 yards and a touchdown) threw completions to seven different players.

The defense, which went missing against UMass’ running game in the second quarter, nonetheless limited the Minutemen to 262 total yards and got on the board when sophomore linebacker Henry Segura returned an interception 49 yards for a touchdown. The 49ers also sacked Minutemen quarterback Andrew Brito five times, tying a program record. True freshman Prince Bemah (Gastonia Huss High) had 1.5 of them.

A cause for concern continues to be Charlotte’s kick and punt return coverage, where the 49ers have allowed touchdowns in all three games, the latest a 42-yard punt return by UMass’ Isaiah Rodgers.

Also: another defensive starter, senior linebacker Jeff Gemmell (sprained ankle) went out with an injury. End Tyriq Harris (lower back) and safety Ben DeLuca (shoulder) were already out. Third-string quarterback Evan Shirreffs, playing for the first time this season, left the game with an injured shoulder after a 26-yard run.

The 49ers, who will pick up $1 million from Clemson for the game, will need as many healthy bodies as possible for the Tigers, who went on the road Saturday night to maul Syracuse, 41-6.

“How I look at it is, you’re playing the Dallas Cowboys every time you step on the field,” said Reynolds of the next week’s trip to Death Valley. “It’s going to be a heck of an experience, I’ll tell you what. We’re going to enjoy this win (Saturday night). We’re going to come in (Sunday) and watch some film on them, see what they do.”

David Scott: @davidscott14
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