49ers need big plays on offense, Lambert says

The Charlotte 49ers have mastered part of what it takes to run a productive offense.

Now they’ve got to find a way to create some big plays, their head coach says.

Brad Lambert says he’s satisfied with the 49ers’ rushing attack, anchored by Kalif Phillips andranked third in Conference USA.

“Now we’ve got to find a way to get the ball downfield, to get some big plays,” Lambert says.

The 49ers, 2-6 overall and 0-5 in the conference, hit the road this week for a noon kickoff Saturday in Miami against Florida International (4-5, 2-3). Charlotte’s defense has played well, for the most part, but the offense has sputtered.

While the 49ers are near the top of Conference USA in rushing, with an average of 177.4 yards a game, they are last in passing offense (166.2) and last in total offense (343.6).

“We’re taking shots (downfield), but we’re not completing them,” Lambert says. “That’s what we’re missing.”

Matt Johnson started at quarterback in Charlotte’s season-opening 23-20 victory at Georgia State and threw for 244 yards. Lee McNeill, who has since replaced Johnson, threw for 219 yards in a 37-34 loss at Old Dominion, but he has been limited to 131 yards or less in his other four games.

“Lee has been playing better and better as the season has gone along,” 49ers’ offensive lineman Jarred Barr says. “We’re working hard to give him the protection he needs.”

The 49ers will have their hands full, trying to rev up the pass game against Florida International. The Panthers rank third in the conference in pass defense.

Lambert says his team is not far from making the big plays and converting on scoring opportunities. “It’s been the little things that stop us,” he says.

In Saturday’s 34-10 loss to Marshall, the 49ers were trailing 7-0 and were poised to go for a first down on a fourth-and-1 situation in Thundering Herd territory. But a procedure penalty against Charlotte forced Lambert’s team to punt. Marshall then drove 97 yards for a touchdown.

“We’ve got to accomplish those little things that have been getting in our way,” Lambert says.

Injury report: Wide receiver Uriah LeMay, a Butler High product, has been lost for the season. He suffered a broken collarbone against Southern Mississippi. Offensive lineman Eugene German, injured in a car crash about 10 days ago, is expected to play Saturday.

Lambert says linebacker Nick Cook (injured foot) is day-to-day. Linebacker Jordan Starnes (shoulder) will be available Saturday.