Football

Can the Charlotte 49ers ‘shock the world’ against Clemson?

The question came at senior tailback Benny LeMay and junior free safety Jacione Fugate during Charlotte’s weekly football media availability Tuesday, ahead of the 49ers’ game against top-ranked Clemson on Saturday.

“What is your attitude going down there as decisive underdogs against the No. 1 team,” a reporter asked. “Is the expectation to see where the program is or to shock the world?”

LeMay answered the question straight on.

“We expect to go in and compete, like we do week in and week out,” hesaid. “I don’t really dictate who we play. They put on their pads just like us. They’re human beings. I’m not really looking at them like they’re the New England Patriots. But I definitely give them the respect. They’re the No. 1 team in the country.”

Fugate considered the question for a few seconds, then obliterated it.

“We want to shock the world,” he said. “We’re not playing small. We want to play big. We want to take this program somewhere it’s never been. We’re not going to lay down for nobody. We will never do that. I don’t care how weak we used to be. It’s not the program we are now. Things have changed.”

Fugate wasn’t making a prediction or seeking to give Clemson (3-0) any bulletin-board material. He was given two options in the question and answered in a way that any confident college athlete might.

And Fugate certainly understands Saturday will be the biggest stage on which the still-young 49ers program has played and its most daunting challenge. Although Charlotte (2-1) has gone 0-4 against Power 5 opponents in recent seasons, those games won’t compare to what awaits the 49ers under the lights in Death Valley.

“I’ve played … and coached in a lot of games like this,” said first-year Charlotte coach Will Healy. “I don’t know if you can put a price tag on what it does for the visibility of your program when you’re on the ACC Network or ESPN and you’re playing the No. 1 team in the country.

“People are going to be talking about Charlotte football and that helps us a lot. Now it’s up to us to go out there and put a great brand of football on the field and to be competitive in the football game.”

The 49ers have the attention of Clemson, however.

“Biggest thing I’m impressed with is how well-coached they are,” Tigers coach Dabo Swinney told reporters Tuesday. ”This is a team that could embarrass us if we don’t have a great week of preparation, because they’re a different type of challenge than we’ve seen.”

49ers notes

Healy said senior linebacker Jeff Gemmell, who sprained his ankle in last week’s victory against Massachusetts has a “25-75” chance of playing against Clemson. Healy said he doubts defensive end Tyriq Harris (lower back) will play and that safety Ben DeLuca (shoulder) also is out.

Another injury of note: Third-string quarterback Evan Shirreffs broke his shoulder after being tackled against UMass and is out indefinitely. Redshirt freshman Dylan Ratliff moves into Shirreffs’ spot on the depth chart.

The 49ers are fifth nationally and lead Conference USA in sacks with 4.33 per game. That’s a total of 13, led by senior defensive end Alex Highsmith’s 4.0.

“They probably have the best player that we’ve seen to this point in that No. 5 (Highsmith),” Swinney said. “He’s on all the ‘great player’ lists. I kept watching him and going, ‘Holy cow.’ He looks like (Clemson defensive end) Xavier Thomas. He’s physical, fast, disruptive. He’s causing sacks and tips. Really, really good football player. That No. 5 could play for anybody in the country.

“So this is a team that won’t be overwhelmed.”

49ers quarterback Chris Reynolds leads C-USA and is 15th nationally with a 178.4 passing-efficiency rating. His seven touchdown passes are second in the league.

The 49ers have gone over the 500-yard mark in total offense in all three games.

David Scott: @davidscott14
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