49ers hit the road to take on Gardner-Webb

The Charlotte 49ers (3-2) hit the road this afternoon for a 1:30 p.m. kickoff against the Bulldogs of Gardner-Webb (2-3) inside Ernest W. Spangler Stadium in Boiling Springs, N.C. The 49ers and Bulldogs will both be looking for a bounce-back performance after losing games against tough, triple-option offenses last weekend.

Gardner-Webb traveled to Charleston, S.C. for a match-up with The Citadel this past Saturday night. The Bulldogs were dominated up front on both sides of the ball, allowing 10 sacks in the contest en route to a 37-14 loss away from home.

The Bulldogs were held to a dismal -2 yards rushing against the Citadel, which bodes well for a Charlotte defense that was gashed for 333 yards on the ground in a 47-41 overtime loss against Charleston Southern last weekend.

The 49ers offense racked up 573 yards of total offense in the loss to the Buccaneers. Charlotte will look to march the ball up and down the field all afternoon against a Gardner-Webb defense playing without their two All-Big South linebackers Tanner Burch and Chad Geter.

Keys To The Game:

49ers Defense

1. Stop the run. Despite last week’s struggles against Charleston Southern’s brutal triple-option rushing attack, Charlotte has been dominate in the trenches against opposing backs in 2014. The 49ers have allowed 655 yards on the ground through their first five games this season and they’re holding their opponents to just 3.2 yards per carry. The Bulldogs All-Big South running back Juanne Blount has been dealing with injuries lately and he missed their game against The Citadel last weekend. Gardner-Webb will need Blount to be healthy this afternoon against Charlotte. The Bulldogs ran the ball 30 times a week ago for a total of -2 yards.

2. Force turnovers. The Bulldogs have turned the ball over just four times in five games in 2014. Gardner-Webb senior quarterback Lucas Beatty is a terrific game-manager and has only thrown two interception despite the team’s struggles during the first month of the season. The 49ers get cornerback Terrence Winchester back this weekend after he missed the last two games with a knee injury. Winchester led the Charlotte defense with three interceptions in 2013 but he is still looking for his first pick this season.

3. Get off the field. Charlotte’s defense has been on the field for the majority of the past two games and it has showed at the end in two close, last-minute losses. Elon and Charleston Southern both dominated time of possession against the 49ers. Charlotte’s up-tempo offense means the defense doesn’t get much time to rest but 49ers head coach Brad Lambert insists that the defense has to get themselves off the field. The Buccaneers held the ball for an incredible 41:52 last weekend, not including the overtime period.

49ers Offense

1. Protect the ball. 49ers quarterback Matt Johnson has to build off of last weekend’s second half success and limit his turnovers today against an opportunistic Bulldogs defense. Johnson threw two costly interceptions in the first half against Charleston Southern, a week after throwing three picks against Elon on the road two weeks ago. Johnson has thrown six interceptions this season after throwing just nine all of 2013. Gardner-Webb has forced 10 turnovers through five games this year, including seven interceptions against opposing quarterbacks.

2. Run the football. Charlotte should feed running back Kalif Phillips the ball early and often. Phillips has racked up 491 yards on the ground this season and has scored a team-high 10 touchdowns in the 49ers first five games. Phillips carried the ball 21 times last weekend for 196 yards and two touchdowns, including a school-record 77-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. The Bulldogs allowed 323 yards rushing last weekend against the triple-option offense of The Citadel.

3. Convert on third down. The 49ers offense has struggled on third down all year and it really hurts their defense on the opposite side of the ball. Charlotte has converted on just 18 of 65 third down attempts this season for a dismal clip of  28 percent. Running the ball with Phillips early on first down should help set up the 49ers with some manageable third and short opportunities. Charlotte’s speed at the receiver position should create some match-up problems and allow Johnson to have options throughout the afternoon.





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