CHARLOTTE 49ERS (6-5, 4-3 C-USA) vs OLD DOMINION (1-9, 0-7 C-USA)
Date/Time: Saturday, November 30th, 2:00 PM ET
Location: S.B. Ballard Stadium, Norfolk, Virginia
Betting Line: Charlotte -10 (O/U 51)
All-Time Series Record: Old Dominion leads 3-1
Previous Matchup: Charlotte won 28-25 with the game being moved to Thursday with Hurricane Florence looming
Will Healy & co. have the 49ers’ riding high on the backs of a program-best 4 game win streak and the inaugural achievement of bowl eligibility. With two boxes left to check off this season, securing the seventh victory over a reeling Old Dominion team is the first order of business.
“We have to get this win, without a question,” said senior Cameron Clark at Tuesday’s press conference. “This is major for me. I’m not used to being on the winning team, so we have to go out 7-5.”
Achieving the first winning season in program history is something these 49ers’ aren’t taking lightly, and their scare against UTEP three weeks ago is keeping the locker room locked in for the trek to Norfolk on Saturday.
“UTEP was a slice of humble pie,” Clark said. “It’s going to be another different environment for us. Just being us wherever we are is what we have to do, we can’t drop the standard.”
Charlotte began the season 2-1 following a heartbreaking loss at Appalachian State, but the hot start dwindled rapidly against the likes of Clemson and FAU as the 49ers dropped 4 straight to fall to 2-5.
Sophomore wideout Victor Tucker said it best following the fifth loss of the season, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” Victor’s heroics against North Texas and most recently against Marshall have highlighted the dramatic turnaround, but delving deeper shows what has truly clicked for the 49ers late in the season: The defense.
During the 4-game skid, the 49ers’ allowed opposing offenses to rack up an average of 471 yards per game, culminating to more than 43 points on the scoreboard. Even with a red-hot offense, there’s no way you can expect to win giving up nearly 500 yards and upwards of 40 points per contest.
After losing handily to Clemson and starting 0-3 in the conference, co-defensive coordinators Marcus West and Brandon Cooper deserve some extremely high praise as the turntables have, well, turned.
Now riding a 4-game win streak, the 49ers’ are limiting offenses to 372 yards per game, almost 100 less than before, and the most eye-popping statistic, only 23 points. Charlotte pitched a second-half shutout against UTEP and kept Marshall’s offense out of the endzone in last week’s victory, and now match up with an ODU team that scores a conference-worst 15.7 points per game.
A program-high seven wins are on the horizon, and with Bowl matchups released on December 8th, the 49ers will prepare to check-off that final box for the 2019 season.
Victor Tucker was right, Rome indeed wasn’t built in a day, but with the dedication and commitment this team and program have displayed, they’re taking the steps to stake their claim in the college football landscape.
OLD DOMINION OUTLOOK
True freshman quarterback Hayden Wolff took the reigns three weeks ago and has provided a spark to what has been a lifeless ODU offense. Last week against Middle Tennessee Wolff threw 65 passes, the second-most in the FBS this season, and completed 39 of them on his way to a 321-yard performance. The freshman connection of Wolff and Aaron Moore accounted for a 63-yard score in the loss against MTSU, the program’s longest touchdown of the season.
Moore turned in a season-high 194 yards, the first 100+ yard day for a Monarch receiver this season. Offense has been a mighty struggle for Bobby Wilder’s group as they can be found at the bottom of C-USA with just 266 yards per contest.
The Monarchs will honor 12 seniors for one last time in S.B. Ballard Stadium, and Bobby Wilder expects to send them out the right way.
“This is one we want to win for sure, especially playing at home on senior day,” said Wilder. “I know our guys will be excited to play, they’ll come out and play good football.”
Linebacker Lawrence Gardner became the second player in ODU history to have two, 100-tackle seasons in his collegiate career and currently leads C-USA with 104 tackles on the season. Gardner will have his hands full Saturday facing the best rushing attack in the conference spearheaded by Benny LeMay and Chris Reynolds.
Senior tailback Kesean Strong will make his return against the 49ers after missing the previous game with a hamstring injury. With the team’s leading back Lala Davis nursing a shoulder injury, expect Strong to see increased touches both on the ground and through the air.
”When I asked (Strong) if he could play this week, he told me nothing’s going to stop him from playing,” Wilder said.
ODU has lost 10 straight games, the longest streak in program history. Avoiding an eleventh consecutive loss starts up front, and containing the Charlotte rushing attack is undoubtedly the biggest key to victory.
“Old Dominion reminds me of the old Charlotte,” said 49ers O-Lineman Cameron Clark. “They have the talent, their record just doesn’t show it.”
PREVIEW & PREDICTION
The 49ers’ most notable defensive weakness this season has been defending the run, and with the Monarchs lacking a 100-yard rusher this season, I can’t see Bobby Wilder’s group stealing one on senior day. ODU has kept it close in many of their losses this season, but Charlotte is rolling right now. Expect Benny LeMay to have a big day on the way to a 49ers W. Charlotte 42, Old Dominion 21