Charlotte (2-4, 0-2 C-USA) vs. Western Kentucky (4-2, 3-0 C-USA)
Date & Time: Saturday, October 19, 4:00 PM
Location: L.T. Smith Stadium, Bowling Green, KY
Betting Line: WKU -8.5 O/U: 48.5
All-Time Series Record: Tied 1-1
Previous Matchup: Charlotte routed WKU 40-14 in 2018 on the arm of Evan Shirreffs after Chris Reynolds exited with a season ending ankle injury.
The Hilltoppers maintain the #2 defense in the league allowing just 18.5 points per game and 287.5 yards per game. Defensive lineman DeAngelo Malone has largely been the statistical leader of that unit. Malone leads the team in tackles with 53 as well as a league leading 14 for a loss with seven sacks. Safety Kyle Bailey has also been a solid contributor on that side of the ball with two interceptions and 49 tackles.
Keeping Ben LeMay in check will be the primary task of WKU’s defense on Saturday. They’ve held opposing offenses to 114.3 rushing yards per game while the Charlotte offense is averaging a league best 218.7 rushing yards per game.
On offense, the tops have come through when they’ve needed to for the most part (after week one), but have been far from perfect. Ty Storey is 57 of 82 on the season for 522 yards through the air with one interception and three TDs. Storey has assumed the role as the starting QB after Steven Duncan went down for the year with a foot injury. Running Back and redshirt junior Gaej Walker is third in the league in rushing with 558 total yards and 93 yards per game.
The Tops will likely lean on Walker against a Charlotte rushing defense that has, for the most part, struggled this season allowing a league-worst 18 touchdowns on the ground as well as an average of 231.8 rushing yards per game.
The 49ers are facing a three game losing skid, giving up more than 45 points in every contest. The defense has struggled mightily against the run, and what was a red-hot offense has began to falter in recent weeks.
Before you write this unit off, take a look at the back-half of their schedule. The 49ers fell to #24 Appalachian State, #3 Clemson, FAU, and FIU in four out of their past five games. While Charlotte ran away with it last season against the Tops, this year is far different. WKU is the story of C-USA right now following a 3-0 start in conference play and a 17-8 thwarting of Army.
While this season is still salvageable, the 49ers sense of urgency must rear it’s head.
“What Western Kentucky has done in the first six games is a great example to our program of what can happen if you do the little things the right way.” said Will Healy at Tuesday’s press conference.
The 49ers offense has accounted for a combined 6 points in the 4th quarter of their previous two games. While the 49ers rushing attack is leading C-USA with 218.7 yards per game, what started as a potent passing attack has dwindled quite rapidly. Chris Reynolds attempted only 10 passes in the 48-23 loss to FIU, completing six of those for 113 yards and a touchdown.
A point must be made to get Victor Tucker the ball, as he was a no-show in the box score for the second time this season against the Panthers. When targeted 4+ times a game, Tucker has registered 235 yards and three scores.
Expect the 49ers to lean heavily on LeMay, but they have a tall task at hand facing a stout Hilltoppers defense spearheaded by DE DeAngelo Malone.
The installation of the 4-2-5 defensive scheme under Will Healy has vastly improved the pass defense and through six games has tied the total sack number from last season at 19. Run defense, on the other hand, has absolutely crumbled giving up over twice the amount per contest in comparison to Glenn Spencer’s unit in 2018.
“Getting away from a defensive scheme that you plan to use for a long time isn’t ideal for the future,” said Healy. “We gave up 350 yards rushing, but 170 of those came after contact. We’ve got to rally to the football better than we are doing, and that has been a point of emphasis this week.”
Western Kentucky’s run offense ranks 111th in the FBS, boding well in hopes of a defensive resurgence. It’s go-time for a 49er team that only has six opportunities left to secure four wins and become bowl eligible for the first time in program history.
PREDICTION & FINAL SCORE
Hunter: Coming off of three straight losses, the 49ers desperately need a win, but I don’t foresee that coming in the Bluegrass state. Charlotte falls to WKU 24-16.
Joe: The Tops have some great momentum built up and while this will be a tough test for that defense, I believe they’ll get it done. WKU wins 27-17.