The Charlotte 49ers football team has established a hot start to the season, starting the season 3-1. The 49ers' next task was to take on Illinois as they traveled to Champaign, Illinois, to face the challenge head-on this past Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021. This was Charlotte's first-ever Big Ten opponent, and the Niners didn't back down from the challenge.
Charlotte picked up right where they left off against Middle Tennessee State, scoring a touchdown in the 1st and 2nd quarter. Going into halftime, Charlotte established the lead 14–10 over the Illini. However, in the 3rd quarter, Illinois scored 14 unanswered points and took the win 24-14 over Charlotte. There was a lot to take away from Charlotte's close loss.
Charlotte Can Hang with Power 5 Teams
This isn't the first season that Charlotte has taken on Power 5 teams. However, unlike past seasons, Charlotte has shown to hang with their Power 5 opponents. The 49ers claimed an impressive win over the Duke Blue Devils earlier this season. Then, Charlotte traveled up to Champaign, Illinois, and didn't disappoint. The 49ers led at halftime and put up some impressive stats.
There has been a lot of questions circulating on the realignment of conferences in college athletics. Charlotte's name has been thrown out there multiple times to fill the spots left in the American Athletic Conference. For Charlotte to go to a Big Ten school and play competitively certainly helped the 49ers boost their resume.
The 49ers rushing defense continues to struggle
Going into the game, Coach Will Healy and company identified and emphasized improving rushing defense. In the post-game interview, Coach Healy said, "And again, it's about stopping the run, and we knew this coming into the game." However, Charlotte struggled again defending against the run, allowing the Illini to rush for 336 yards on 50 carries.
The Illini had a big addition as this was Chase Brown's first week of full practice. A big turning point in the game was when Chase Brown for Illinois scampered off an 80-yard touchdown run to extend the Illini's lead to 10 points. Chase Brown led the Illini with 257 yards and two touchdowns. There will be even more emphasis moving forward on rush defense as Illinois was only held to 78 passing yards. This will be a key for any offense in future games to establish the running game against the Niner defense.
The Illini also went 8-14 on 3rd down and 2-2 on 4th down offensive plays. Jon Alexander led the Niners in tackles with ten total, followed by Solomon Rogers with seven total tackles. Charlotte's defense does have some positives to build upon, as the Niner's defense forced a fumble this past Saturday.
Charlotte's passing game shows up in a big-time moment
Chris Reynolds did a phenomenal job this past Saturday, completing 17 of his 23 passing attempts. Reynolds threw for 191 yards and rushed for 35 yards. Even though Reynolds was under pressure from an impressive Illinois defensive line, Reynolds still located his receivers. Grant DuBose ended the game with four receptions for 70 yards. DuBose's longest reception of the day was 34 yards on the opposite sideline. V
Victor Tucker had an impressive outing, receiving five passes for 55 yards and a touchdown. The highlight play of the game was made by the Freshman, Elijah Spencer when he received a 27-yard pass over the top of the defender for a touchdown. The Forty-Niners rushing attack seemed to be slowed down by the Illinois defensive line. The Niners rushed for 81 yards on 27 attempts. The 49ers' will look to use this aspect of their game moving into the heart of conference play.
Healy and company didn't get the win but showed progress as a team.
"We didn't get it done, and that's frustrating and disappointing. But, once again, we get another awesome opportunity to respond," said Healy.
In building a top-tier program, there are up and downs. Unfortunately, the 49ers have had those ups and downs throughout the last few years. Although they did not go home with the win, Charlotte will look to build on their gutty performance as the season starts to heat up.