Southern Mississippi put on a clinic of efficient football Saturday afternoon, handing Charlotte a 44-10 Conference USA setback on the 49ers’ homecoming day.
The Golden Eagles converted 10 of 14 third-down situations in the first three quarters, held 49ers running back Kalif Phillips in check and shut down Charlotte’s passing game.
“The difference was third downs,” 49ers coach Brad Lambert said. “They made a lot of theirs, and we didn’t. We faced a lot of third-and-longs.”
Lambert said special teams play, including a 95-yard kickoff return for a Golden Eagles touchdown and a pair of missed field goals, contributed to the long afternoon.
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“I was disappointed with our special teams,” he said.
Lambert said a key part of the game came on his team’s second drive. With the game scoreless, Charlotte (2-5, 0-4) drove from its 34 and had a first-and-goal at the Southern Mississippi 2. But reserve quarterback Matt Johnson was dropped for a 4-yard loss and the 49ers eventually had to settle for a 25-yard Blake Brewer field goal.
Then Charlotte mistakes and a freak play allowed the Golden Eagles (5-3, 3-1) to score all the points they needed.
Michael Thomas caught a short pass from Nick Mullens and appeared to be stopped by a 49ers defender, but Thomas broke free and dashed 69 yards for a Southern Miss touchdown. The Golden Eagles made it 10-3 three minutes later on a 38-yard Stephen Brauchle field goal that was set up by a 13-yard Charlotte punt.
Then early in the second quarter, with the Golden Eagles at the Charlotte 9, a 49ers defender tipped a Mullens pass. The ball floated in the air but was grabbed in the end zone by Southern Mississippi’s Taylor Marini.
The Golden Eagles limited Phillips to 71 yards rushing, stopping his streak of 100-yard-plus games at three. Charlotte’s quarterbacks completed only 12 of 30 passes, with three interceptions.
3 who mattered
Kalan Reed: His spectacular one-handed interception of a Lee McNeill pass in the end zone in the second quarter prevented the 49ers from scoring a touchdown when the score was only 16-3.
Nick Mullens: Southern Mississippi’s quarterback carved up the 49ers’ defense, completing 24 of 38 for 265 yards and four touchdowns.
Jalen Richard: He rushed for 114 yards and a touchdown, and returned a second-half kickoff 95 yards for a Southern Mississippi score.
▪ Lambert said Southern Mississippi’s rush was a big reason Charlotte quarterback Lee McNeill completed but 10 of 27 passes for 93 yards. “They kept him off-balance,” Lambert said.
▪ One of many frustrating moments for Charlotte: Kalif Phillips broke a 75-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, but a penalty negated the play.
▪ The 49ers’ special teams weren’t so special. The tally: Charlotte kick returners were tackled inside the 10 twice on kickoffs; the 49ers allowed a 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown; Blake Brewer missed two of three field goal attempts; and a bad punt set up a Southern Mississippi field goal.
▪ Charlotte punter Arthur Hart had a good (and busy) day overall. Outside of a shanked second-quarter kick, he punted eight times for an average of 38.3 yards that included a 53-yarder.
▪ Southern Mississippi’s band made the trip to Charlotte, making them the first visiting marching band to appear at a 49ers game.
▪ The sun broke through overcast skies about 90 minutes before kickoff. The 49ers’ previous three home games were played under threatening skies (Presbyterian) and in a downpour (Florida Atlantic and Temple).
▪ Attendance was announced as 13,813, but only a fraction of that number remained in the stands by the fourth quarter.
“The personal foul penalties are on me. We’ve got to play with composure, and it’s my job to see to that.” – Charlotte coach Brad Lambert, addressing three personal fouls against the 49ers.