After back-to-back weeks of Charlotte football being cancelled due to COVID-19, the 49ers were back on the field on Oct. 3rd when they took on the Florida Atlantic Owls. However, it was in a losing effort as the Niners fell on the road 21-17.
There’s positives and negatives to take away from games. Here are five takeaways from Saturday’s game against the Owls.
The 49ers had a strong first half
If Charlotte could play the entire game like they did in the first half, the 49ers could have had its first win of the year. On the opening drive, the 49ers went 53 yards and scored off of a Jonathan Cruz field goal. Charlotte scored on the following drive with a passing touchdown from Chris Reynolds to Cameron Dollar. Charlotte finished the first half with 174 yards of offense.
On the defensive side, the 49ers wanted to make sure that Nick Tronti felt uncomfortable in the pocket and they succeeded. In the first half, Tronti completed only five passes on 15 attempts for a total of 30 yards. Charlotte held the FAU offense to 72 yards and no points in the first half, which is the first time the 49ers shut out an opponent in the first half since 2018. On FAU’s final three possessions of the first half, the Owls only went 10 yards on eight plays and went three-and-out twice. Also in the first half, the Owls called two plays in Charlotte territory, one of which was a failed fourth down call.
The 49ers missed important scoring opportunities
The 49ers were moving the ball down the field well the entire game. After the Niners went up 10-0, they went 49 yards in 11 plays with an opportunity to score again. However, the drive stalled, and Jonathan Cruz missed a 48-yard field goal. To start the second half, the Niners drove the ball down to the FAU 27-yard line before having to kick another 44-yard field goal, which Cruz missed as well.
Later in the game when Charlotte was trailing 14-10, the 49ers would have scored off a 75-yard touchdown pass and catch to Aaron McAllister, but the play was called back for an ineligible man downfield penalty. Charlotte moved the ball well the entire game but were unable to convert on those opportunities due to the miscues from the offense and special teams.
Rush defense struggled
It’s no secret that the rush defense has been an issue for the Niners since last season, and it needs improvement. The 49ers struggled to stop the FAU rushing offense as the Owls rushed for a total of 217 yards on 33 carries and scored one touchdown. Just for reference, that is over six and a half yards per carry. Of those 217 rushing yards, Tronti had 94 yards and a touchdown, James Charles had 45 and Larry McCammon had 43.
The yardage allowed on the ground can be blamed on not having a game the past two weeks, but this has been an issue for the Niners the past few games they’ve played. Against App State, Charlotte allowed 308 rushing yards and four touchdowns. Dating back to last season in the Bahamas Bowl, the 49ers allowed 205 rushing yards and three touchdowns to the Buffalo Bulls.
The third quarter proved to be costly
Charlotte was in control for the entire first half and led by ten before the third quarter. However, once the second half started, the Owls started to march themselves back into the game. In the third quarter, Charlotte had three drives that ended with a missed field goal, a punt and then a costly fumble from Reynolds inside the Charlotte 20-yard line that set up an easy score for the Owls.
On the flip side, the third quarter is when FAU started to take control over the game. The first drive ended with a 49-yard touchdown run from Tronti, which capped off a 73-yard scoring drive. The next possession, the Owls traveled 80 yards in under two minutes to score another touchdown to take the lead. The Owls scored their third and final touchdown of the game off the 49ers turnover. In the third quarter, FAU recorded 169 yards on 12 plays, which is over 14 yards per play.
Veteran wide receivers stepped up
When Chris Reynolds needed receivers to create separation to complete easy throws, he relied on Victor Tucker and Cameron Dollar who stepped up big when needed. Early in the game, Reynolds delivered a strike to Dollar on a post route for a 38-yard touchdown. Dollar finished the game with five receptions, 96 yards and one touchdown.
Later in the game with Charlotte trailing 21-10, Will Healy decided to go for it on a fourth and four on the FAU five-yard line and converted with Reynolds completing a pass to Tucker near the goal line. On Charlotte’s final drive, Reynolds completed three passes to Tucker, one for 48 yards to set up a possible scoring opportunity. Tucker finished with nine receptions and 118 yards, both game highs. The performance from Dollar and Tucker was very promising for what the rest of the season holds for the two junior receivers.