The Charlotte 49ers’ 23-20 football victory Friday in the Georgia Dome over Georgia State helped fill in some of the puzzle pieces for coach Brad Lambert.
“We just wanted to see how we match up with everyone,” Lambert said of the 49ers’ first game against a Football Bowl Subdivision opponent.
“We’ve been working toward the first game, but this was a chance to see how we stack up.”
Lambert got some answers from the historic 49ers victory.
And there were a number of takeaways from the game. For example:
The defense has improved: The 49ers’ coaching staff acknowledged that improvements were needed over last season, when Charlotte allowed nearly 480 yards a game. The defense looked much improved Friday.
The 49ers allowed 392 yards against Georgia State, but 145 of those came in the fourth quarter. By then, Charlotte was ahead 23-6. The 49ers recovered two fumbles and intercepted a pass in the first half, and the defense limited the Panthers to field goals or less after several 49er offensive errors.
Lambert was so confident of the defense that he deferred a choice until the second half after Charlotte won the coin toss.
“We wanted to see how our defense would play at the beginning,” he said.
On the game’s fourth play, the 49ers ran back a recovered fumble for a touchdown.
The offense was shaky: Charlotte reached the red zone four times and came away with two field goals. The other drives ended with a lost fumble and an interception.
“We’ve got to value the ball better,” Lambert said. “We can’t turn it over five times and expect to win.”
The 49ers compiled 259 yards of total offense in the first half. But the attack struggled late in the game. One stretch of four possessions ended with three punts and a lost fumble.
Phil Ratliff remains a factor: Ratliff, Charlotte’s popular offensive line coach and recruiting coordinator, died in August. Several coaches and players mentioned Ratliff as being a factor Friday. Lambert gave the game ball to Ratliff’s daughter, Haley.
“There was a lot of emotion over coach Ratliff,” Lambert said. He said giving the game ball to the coach’s daughter “was something we wanted to do … because it’s been a hard time for that family.”
The players had fun: Playing on national television (ESPNU) and in the Georgia Dome meant to lot to the 49ers. “It’s incredible to play in a pro arena,” defensive lineman James Middleton said. “It’s something you dream about as a kid.”
“I got chills when we drove up here,” offensive lineman Casey Perry added.
Once the team made it to the locker room, though, “It was just another game,” Perry said.
How good were the Panthers? Georgia State beat a Football Championship Subdivision team by one point last year and then lost 11 straight. The Panthers lost 44-0 to Appalachian State.
“Charlotte did a great job and give them credit,” Georgia State head coach Trent Miles said, “but as a coaching staff, we have to do better. We were obviously disappointed.”
The 49ers return to action Saturday, facing Presbyterian at noon in the home opener. It is Charlotte’s only game this season against an FCS opponent.