Charlotte 49ers (American Athletic Conference) vs Florida Gators (Southeastern Conference)
Date/Time: Saturday, September 23, 7:00 PM EST
TV: SEC Network+ (Play-By-Play: Clay Matvick/Analyst: Aaron Murray)
Radio: Learfield/Charlotte Sport Network (Play-By-Play: Matt Swierad/Analyst: Al Wallace/ Sideline: Bobby Rosinski)
Location: Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, Gainesville, FL
Spread: Florida -28, Over/Under: 49
All-Time Series Record: First Meeting
Setting The Stage
Both teams head into this matchup having drastically different Week 3 outcomes. The Florida Gators pulled off a season-changing upset against formerly #11 ranked Tennessee in The Swamp, while the Charlotte 49ers suffered a tough loss at home to the Georgia State Panthers.
Saturday’s home loss to Georgia State took many by surprise, including Coach Biff Poggi. Prior to the season, Charlotte wanted their identity to be a hard-nosed, downhill, defensively stout team. Saturday was the exact opposite. The Niners allowed Georgia State quarterback Darren Grainger to have a career game, throwing 27 for 33, 466 yards, and three touchdowns (5 yards shy of the school’s all-time passing record). Coach Poggi was more than displeased with the defensive performance, saying “Defensively we got gashed. It was our worst game on defense. We had so many busted coverages, the back end played horrendous. I have no idea what we were doing when they went empty, that was an imbecile tell that #3 was running the ball.”
The Niners used this week to simplify their schemes and play calls, in hopes of giving players more freedom to play with speed and aggression.
The Florida Gators will give the Niner defense all they can handle. Limiting Trevor Etienne will be priority No. 1 for Charlotte. The sophomore running back is coming off a huge week, rushing for 172 yards on 23 carries in the win against Tennessee.
The Gators offense has mostly been short throws and screens, giving skill players the opportunity to make plays after the reception. If Charlotte can fire off the snap and shed blocks, they’ll be able to stifle the Florida offense and put them in unfavorable down-and-distance situations.
Charlotte seems to be committed to a two-quarterback system, as Coach Poggi tries to navigate and come to terms with who should be the main starter. In Tuesday’s presser, Coach Poggi said, “We like both of them. Our goal is to get to the point where we have enough packages for what each of them does well, so we can play them 50% of the time. It doesn’t mean Trexler can’t run, doesn’t mean Jones can’t pass… I was encouraged by how our quarterbacks played”.
Offensive lineman Kevin Williams isn’t worried about which quarterback will be under center. “For us up front, it doesn’t matter who’s back there… we have to protect them.” Charlotte’s front line must hold up against the Gators if they want to keep this game close. Both Coach Poggi and Kevin Williams hold a healthy level of respect for their opponents but are excited to square off with the Florida defense.
Coach Poggi: “They have great size, great athleticism, and are really well coached. It’s a great challenge for our offensive line. We talked about how football is 11 on 11… this will be a chance for our guys to cement who we want to be going forward. We will not play a front like this again, we will find out where we are as a progression of an offensive line and tight-ends against this crowd on Saturday night”.
Florida’s identity is a ground-and-pound, physical team. Charlotte’s best form of defense will be keeping the Gators methodical and dynamic offense off the field. The Niners know they have an uphill battle in a hostile away environment. Points will be hard to come by, but they are fully embracing the challenge.
Florida enters this game with a season-altering 29-16 win against the formerly #11-ranked Tennessee Volunteers. The Gators are ranked for the first time this season, coming in at #25. Billy Napier seems to have righted the ship, as the Gators look to use Week 4 as a springboard into conference play.
The speed and physicality of SEC teams cannot be replicated in practice, and Charlotte Coach Biff Poggi knows how lethal the Gators can be. “Florida presents a different problem. They are explosive, if we give them a foot… it will turn into 100 yards”. Florida’s junior starting quarterback Graham Mertz hasn’t taken many deep shots down the field. Instead, the Gators focus on controlling time of possession and wearing out their opponents through a balanced rushing attack. Florida had the ball for approximately 15 minutes longer than the Vols last Saturday (37:28 to 22:32).
Florida’s opening-week loss to Utah was due to the Gator’s inability to establish a solid and consistent run game. Trevor Etienne rushed for just 25 yards on seven carries, and the Gators finished the game with a staggeringly low 13 rushing yards total (with Graham Mertz contributing -29 yards due to an onslaught of sacks). Charlotte may not be the cream of the crop on defense, but the Niners have multiple playmakers on the defensive line that can replicate Utah’s run defense.
Florida’s defense excels at stopping the run and forcing teams to throw the ball in less-than-favorable situations. The Gators held the Vols to just 100 rushing yards in last week’s matchup. Tennessee starting quarterback Joe Milton III was held to 20 for 34, 287 yards with 2 touchdowns and 1 interception. The Gators’ bend, don’t break mentality allows them to take risks on defense, as they mix up blitz packages and coverages to throw off opposing quarterbacks.
The fans in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium will serve as the 12th man against the Charlotte 49ers. Tennessee finished last week’s game with 10 penalties for 79 yards. This will be the first time playing in a college atmosphere of this magnitude for many of the Charlotte players. Florida should use this to their advantage, mixing up pre-snap cadences to draw antsy Charlotte rushers offside.
The one mistake Florida should avoid is underestimating their opponent. The Niners were able to surprise Maryland in Week 2 with a quick start, resulting in a game-long slugfest. The Gators will travel to Kentucky to face the 3-0 Wildcats next week, but they must focus on the opponent in front of them before getting ahead of themselves.
Charlotte is a heavy underdog in this matchup, and rightfully so. The Niners’ Week 3 loss was a shock to fans, coaches and players. Biff Poggi voiced his frustration with the offense and defense in Saturday’s post-game press conference, saying “We’ve morphed away from what I said we were going to be… what I wanted has gotten eroded over time. This falls on me. I’m telling you right now, I’m on a warpath. I just met with our coaches, and we’re going to get it done the way I want it done, or either I’m not going to be here, or they’re not going to be here. I am not doing this for the rest of the season”.
On the flip side, Florida seems to be trending in the right direction before conference play begins. Barring unforeseen circumstances, this game should be dominated in the trenches by the Gators, resulting in another win at home for Florida.
Final Score: Florida 42, Charlotte 10