Charlotte 49ers (1-3; AAC: 0-0) at SMU Mustangs (2-2; AAC: 0-0)
Date/Time: Saturday, September 30, 7:30 PM EST
TV: ESPNU (Play-By-Play: John Schriffen/Analyst: Rocky Boiman)
Radio: Learfield/Charlotte Sport Network (Play-By-Play: Matt Swierad/Analyst: Al Wallace/ Sideline: Bobby Rosinski)
Location: Gerald J.Ford Stadium, Dallas, TX
Spread: SMU -23.5, Over/Under: 53.5
All-Time Series Record: First Meeting
Setting The Stage
This week marks Charlotte’s first conference game in the AAC. The Niners will continue their road trip against SMU in Dallas, Texas. SMU will leave the AAC and join the ACC next season, but the Mustangs look to leave the conference as champions. Charlotte plans to spoil SMU’s conference title hopes after an encouraging loss to the Florida Gators in The Swamp. The Niners came out of Saturday’s game with more positives than negatives, looking to build off last week’s performance in the first game of conference play.
Head Coach Biff Poggi made a point of “limiting the menu” after Charlotte’s Week Two loss to Georgia State. The Niners went into Gainesville, Florida and gave the Gators a fight that few people foresaw. Charlotte has reiterated that they are “committed to a two quarterback system”, however that did not seem to be the case in last week’s outing in The Swamp. Walk-on quarterback Trexler Ivey played the majority of the first quarter against Florida, but was swapped for former UF quarterback Jalon Jones early in the second quarter, never checking back into the game.
The Niners found something with Jalon Jones. Florida did not seem to have an answer for Jalon’s dual threat abilities, as he scrambled and improvised for chunk plays for three full quarters. Coach Poggi addressed the quarterback situation in Tuesday’s presser, saying “We don’t know if [Jalon] will be the starter yet, that’s not a coach answer…it depends on who we play, what they do, and what we think we can take advantage of. Both guys are going to play for sure”. Charlotte tight-end Colin Weber had a few big plays on screen passes and gadget plays, allowing him to catch the ball in space and make a defender miss. The Niners do not have big name receivers. Mike Miller’s best bet on offense will be taking what the SMU defense gives them and rely on pass catchers to thrive in YAC plays.
SMU has a fast paced offense that prefers to gain yards through the air, rather than on the ground. The Niners will need to find a way to put up points in this matchup, regardless of which quarterback will be taking snaps under center.
Charlotte’s defense was the crowned jewel in Saturday’s game against the Gators. The Niners matched season highs with 7.0 TFL, 3.0 sacks and two forced fumbles against Florida. After a hot start, the Gators were limited to just 170 yards for the last three quarters of the game. Charlotte’s defensive line came to play, and defensive end Eyabi Okie-Anoma set the tone for the pass rush. Before this game, Florida was converting on 39% of their third-down opportunities, the Niners held them to just 1-of-9. Defensive coordinator Ryan Osborn has done a stellar job of mixing up schemes and packages to keep opposing quarterbacks on their toes.
With that being said, SMU presents a different problem than the Gators. The Mustangs are a fast, run and gun team, that aims to wear out opposing defenses by the sheer number of snaps they run. Charlotte’s defense has had trouble facing fast-tempoed offenses this season, conceding an average of 39.5 points against teams that ran upwards of 65+ plays on offense (Maryland and Georgia State). Winning on early downs will be the main priority for the Charlotte defense, forcing SMU into obvious pass plays in less than favorable down and distance situations.
Charlotte looks to control the clock and keep the ball out of the Mustangs hands. The Niners will see the return of both Durell Robinson (did not travel with team to Florida) and Terron Kellman on Saturday. Defensive End Jalar Holley and Offensive Lineman Panda Askew both had successful surgeries this week and they will be out for the season. Other than those two injuries, Poggi reported that the Niners will be fully healthy going into Dallas, Texas.
The Mustangs start the season 2-2, after facing a tough non-conference schedule to begin the year. SMU faced #18 Oklahoma, and are coming off a loss against TCU last week (34-17). Despite having a .500 record, SMU is the cream of the crop in the AAC, and they have one goal…to win the conference championship. Charlotte Head Coach Biff Poggi understands the steep hill ahead, saying ““We’re going into an absolute hornets nest. They’re really good, they played Oklahoma and TCU really tough…and they’re used to winning. Their goal is to win this league before they move to the ACC”.
SMU is deep at the wide receiver position, with 8 players having at least one reception against TCU. The Mustangs are not known for their rushing attack. Instead, they fit the identity of most teams in the American Athletic Conference, choosing to spread their offense out and throw the ball downfield.
SMU quarterback Preston Stone really likes the right side of the field. After looking at his passing chart, approximately 60% of Preston’s throws are to the right. The Mustangs will look to consistently take deep shots down the field. Preston has thrown 29 passes through four games that are 20 yards or more through the air, for reference…Jalon Jones has thrown 9. Charlotte’s secondary will be challenged time and time again, but they look forward to the matchup.
This game will mark the start of conference play for both teams. SMU will look to defend home field and move above .500 before their trip to Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium to take on the ECU Pirates.
The Niners have yet to capture a road win this season. After traveling to The Swamp last week, Charlotte will head into another hostile crowd in Dallas, Texas. Charlotte’s defense was able to keep the Niners afloat against the Gators, but their offense will need to match the production of the defense if they want a shot against the Mustangs. Unfortunately, SMU’s fast paced offense will present problems for the Niners defense, mainly centered around fatigue. If Charlotte can keep the Mustangs under 60 plays, they’ll have a shot to keep this game close, but SMU has the offensive firepower to pull away early if given the chance.
Final Score: Charlotte 17 - SMU 31