Week 2’s matchup was a trip down memory lane for many of the Charlotte players and coaching staff. There was a level of familiarity between the two teams and coaches. Charlotte and Maryland have a healthy level of respect for each other, due to a sense of familiarity during this matchup. Each team knew what the other would run. This game would come down to who executed better and more often.
Here’s the Game Notebook from SECU Stadium.
1. Charlotte’s Fast Start
There’s no preseason in college football. Teams use Week 1 as a “feel out” game, as they work out kinks in the offense and defense. To no surprise, the Niners came out slow in Week 1. Charlotte’s revamped offense had some miscues in the first quarter, leading to three-and-outs, and punts that resulted in good starting field position for the Bulldogs.
The Niners knew they had no chance of winning their Week 2 matchup against Maryland if they got off to a similar start.
Charlotte came out firing in College Park. With 12 minutes remaining in the first quarter, Jalon Jones rolled out left and found redshirt sophomore wide receiver Jairus Mack on a 48-yard touchdown pass. This was the exact start the Niners were looking for.
On the following kickoff, Stone Handy delivered a big hit on special teams, pinning the Terps inside their own 15-yard line. Charlotte’s defense used the favorable field position to bring heavy pressure on Maryland quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa, resulting in a “pick-six” interception by linebacker Demetrius Knight.
2. Offense Stalled Out
Coach Poggi stated, “Players win games, but coaches can lose games”.
The Niners led 14-3 late in the second quarter, with a crucial 4th & 4 near midfield. Momentum was on Charlotte’s side, as Terps fans in SECU Stadium could feel the pressure mounting. Coach Poggi decided to punt the ball back to the Maryland offense with 6 minutes remaining in the half, a decision he now regrets. “We tried to draw them offsides, then we were going to take a timeout and decide whether we were going to go for it. In hindsight, I didn’t take the timeout. I let the clock expire and we punted it into the end zone. Thinking back on that, I think it was a mistake on my part. We had momentum, it was 14-3, we had them on their heels. Coach Osborn came up to me and said go for it, I should’ve listened to him”.
Although the Niners were sitting on a comfortable lead, one could say this was the turning point of the game. Maryland ended the quarter by scoring two more field goals, making the halftime score 14-9.
3. Kameron Howard (Ties School Record)
Charlotte made a point of recruiting experienced players through the portal. When Coach Poggi took this job, he described it as a “reshaping, not rebuilding” project. Veteran players like Eyabi-Okie Anoma, Prince Bemah, Wayne Jones, and others have set the tone and team identity for this season.
However, the Niners seem to be successfully bridging the gap between the two eras. Charlotte has seen big contributions from younger players, such as Durell Robinson and Kameron Howard. In fact, true freshman Kameron Howard became the first 49er to record an interception in each of his first two games, one shy of tying the school’s freshman record set by Terrance Winchester (3) in 2013.
Kameron Howard’s interception could not have come at a more timely moment. Charlotte trailed 14-17 in the third quarter with Maryland threatening to score again in the red zone. Taulia Tagovailoa scrambled right, throwing a pass into double coverage. Kameron Howard telegraphed the pass, stepping in front of the receiver to make the interception in the end zone.
Coach Poggi on Kameron Howard:
“We’ve got good young players too, which is great for the future. Kam is a really good player. We’re playing two freshman running backs a lot, we’re playing a freshman slot guy…we’re playing a lot of guys that have a lot of eligibility left. We tell younger players to do their job in practice because your number will get called. Kam’s number is getting called, and it should get called.”
4. Biff Poggi (Maryland Return) + Look Ahead
Charlotte has six transfers from Maryland, including 28 players who played at St.Frances Academy in Baltimore. The Maryland roots run deep throughout this team. Although the Niners did not get a Week 2 win, Charlotte used this game as a litmus test, hoping to rebound from this game as they prepare to springboard into conference play. On Tuesday’s Presser following the Maryland loss, Coach Poggi made it clear, “We are elite on defense, and we’re getting really, really close on offense”.
Charlotte is treating every game as a “must-win”. The Niners will host Georgia State in Week 3 for Homecoming and Niner Nation Week.
Coach Poggi on Georgia State matchup:
“It’s the most important game because it’s the next game. We got to win, we want to win, we’re preparing to win. That’s how we approach everything, every week is the precipice. There’s got to be a sense of urgency, and I think we came out and played 45 minutes with a sense of urgency, but we have to play that way the whole game.”
One thing is sure. Charlotte’s projected win total for the 2023 season does not match the level of play the Niners are putting on the field. After hiring a New Head Coach and staff, including seeing over 70 new players on the team…the Niners have shown they will not be a pushover in the American Athletic Conference.