MIDDLE TENNESSEE (3-5, 2-2 C-USA) vs Charlotte 49ers (3-5, 1-3 C-USA)
Date/Time: Saturday, November 2nd, 3:30 PM
TV: ESPN 3 - (PxP: Bobby Rosinski Analyst: Reggie Walker Sideline: Libby Clark)
Radio: 730 The Game: Charlotte Sports Network from Learfield IMG College Sports
(PxP: Matt Swierad Analyst: Al Wallace Sideline: Walker Mehl)
Location: Jerry Richardson Stadium, Charlotte, NC
Betting Line: MTSU -3 (O/U 65)
All-Time Series Record: MTSU leads 4-0
MIDDLE TENNESSEE PREVIEW
Middle Tennessee got back in the win column last week with a second-half explosion, outscoring Florida International 36-0 in the final 30 minutes. A torrential downpour drastically changed the flow of the game, and as players described, “sheets of rain” poured down in the third quarter especially.
Rick Stockstill’s unit has been able to force turnovers without committing many of their own, ranking 10th in the nation with a +7 turnover margin. The Blue Raiders turned FIU over 4 times on their way to a 50-17 victory over a Panthers team that thwarted Charlotte 48-23 just three weeks ago. This will be key with Charlotte’s gameplan focusing on ball control and feeding Ben LeMay.
The Middle Tennessee defense had a great week last week only giving up 319 total yards, a season low, but doesn’t take away from the fact that they rank last in C-USA. They are giving up almost 475 yards a game, and 205 of those being via the run doesn’t matchup well against the leading rusher in C-USA.
Getting pressure and speeding up the clock in Chris Reynolds’ head will be key for the Blue Raiders, but a lack of a pass-rush has plagued Scott Shafer’s unit, totaling only 6 sacks on the season. North Texas sacked Reynolds only once last week, and the lack of pressure played a huge role in his career day.
Ty Lee has caught a pass in 48 straight games and sliced the 49ers secondary with six catches and two touchdowns in their 21-13 victory in Murfreesboro last season. Lee’s numbers are career lows, and the graduation of Brent Stockstill has played a major role in the dip. The Blue Raiders must look to get him the ball, and watching the tape of Mason Fine’s field day with the 49ers secondary could be a recipe for success. Charlotte showed multiple press-man coverage looks without a deep safety, and Fine was able to dissect the coverage on his way to 4 touchdown passes of 34 yards or more. O’Hara has had multiple 300+ passing yard performances this season, and the Blue Raiders will need the sophomore to spearhead the offensive attack yet again.
This is a huge game for the Blue Raiders, and with winnable match-ups against Rice and Old Dominion in the next two weeks, a win here could set up a clash against Western Kentucky with big C-USA East division implications in the final week of the season.
Charlotte has positioned themselves for a potential late-season run, and last week’s dramatic come-from-behind victory was the first step. The 49ers showed that they could win a close game, and now have a chance to complete their two-game home stand with back to back victories.
Chris Reynolds was named C-USA Player of the Week following his late-game heroics in the 49ers comeback win over North Texas. Reynolds completed 24 of his 32 passes for 336 yards and 3 TD’s, as well as rushing 8 times for 96 yards and a score. The dual-threat ability and North Texas’ lack of pressure allowed the 49ers offense to spark a rhythm in the third quarter, and 32 second-half points later Charlotte emerged victorious.
The 49ers offense has been almost automatic in the red-zone, scoring on 19 of their 24 trips, sitting right below 80%. The offenses success has attributed to the lack of field goal attempts for Jonathon Cruz, who is 3 for 3 on the season. Cruz went 17-22 last season and has a career-high of 56 yards.
Asher O’Hara has thrown four of his five interceptions on the road this season, boding well for a 49ers defense that has struggled to create turnovers with a -5 turnover margin on the year. Charlotte’s defense has done an outstanding job preventing the QB scramble to this point, with the most yards coming from FAU’s Nick Tronti with 39 yards - all of which were designed runs.
This is going to be a real test for Marcus West’s unit as O’Hara is leading the Blue Raiders offense both through the air and on the ground. O’Hara has carried the ball 122 times and has 87 more attempts than any running back on the team. Middle Tennessee’s offensive downpour washed away the Panthers defense in last week’s matchup, with three backs (O’Hara, Jay McDonald, and Terrelle West) all rushing for 130+ yards. MTSU racked up 471 yards on the ground in the victory, and pose a major threat to Charlotte’s run defense which ranks 11th in C-USA giving up nearly 200 yards per contest.
Benny LeMay carried the rock 30 times last week, his highest total of the season, and you can expect more where that came from against a sub-par run defense. LeMay leads the country in receiving touchdowns as a running back with 4 and has caught a touchdown in three consecutive games.
PREDICTION & FINAL SCORE
Both teams desperately need a win to keep their hopes of bowl eligibility alive, but I think the 49ers defense steps up and slows down the O’Hara show. The 49ers offense has rediscovered their rhythm, and MTSU’s run-defense actually ranks worse than Charlotte. Expect Benny LeMay to have another monstrous game on the way to a second straight 49ers victory. Charlotte 35, Middle Tennessee 30