Charlotte settled in after a rocky first quarter, giving the Gators a fight in the second half. Coach Poggi and the Niners used this game as a litmus test, as they prepare to start conference play in Dallas against SMU next week. Despite the loss, Charlotte walked out of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium with more positives than negatives.
Here are my 3 Takeaways from Charlotte vs Florida:
1) Two Quarterback System-ish
Jalon Jones started the game at quarterback for the Niners. On the first play of the game, Jones fumbled the ball in the backfield but the Niners recovered it. Two plays later, Charlotte found themselves punting the ball after a quick three-and-out forced by the Gator defense. Coach Poggi decided to put Trexler Ivey under center for the remainder of the first quarter. The Gators were able to create consistent pressure on Trexler Ivey, resulting in two sacks for big losses. Coach Poggi voiced his frustration with Trexler taking sacks in last week’s matchup versus the Panthers, saying “I don’t like the fact that No.11 took 4 sacks in critical positions, he should know better than that…”. Jalon Jones checked back into the game in the second quarter, leading the Charlotte offense down the field on an 8-play, 75-yard drive, resulting in a touchdown on a quarterback scramble. Jalon’s ability to scramble and improvise on the run allowed Niners receivers more time to get open downfield. The Niners found a weak spot in the Gator defense, rolling Jalon out of the pocket time and time again at the end of the first half.
Coach Poggi stated in last week’s presser, “Right now [Trexler] makes better reads than [Jalon] but we’re more dynamic with [Jalon] in the game.”
This held true in the second half. Jalon Jones continued to march the Charlotte offense down field, threatening to score on each drive. Trexler Ivey did not see the field for the rest of the game after subbing out for Jalon Jones early in the second quarter. Jalon Jones’ performance was more than enough to convince Charlotte’s coaching staff to name him the full time starter, despite Charlotte repeatedly saying they are committed to a two-quarterback system.
2) Charlotte’s Defense Holds Up
Coach Poggi was unhappy with the secondary’s performance in last week’s home loss to Georgia State. The Niners allowed QB Darren Grainger to throw for 466 yards, five shy of tying the school record held by Nick Arbuckle (471 yards in 2015). Charlotte’s defense started today’s game looking no different than last week. Florida quarterback Graham Mertz finished the first half with 188 yards through the air and one touchdown pass. Florida’s wide receivers were able to catch the ball in space, going for 82 yards after the catch (YAC). As the game progressed, Charlotte’s defense began to settle in, forcing the Gators to punt the ball for the first time with 1:03 left in the first half.
The Niners carried their momentum into the second half. Charlotte Defensive End Eyabi-Okie Anoma forced a fumble on Florida QB Graham Mertz for a turnover on downs early in the third quarter. Charlotte’s defensive line was able to create consistent pressure on Graham Mertz for the rest of the game. The Niners’ defensive performance was night and day compared to last week’s loss to Georgia State.
After giving up 16 points in the first half, Charlotte held the Gators to two field goals for the rest of the game. The Gators had 5 trips to the red-zone, and ended up kicking 4 field goals. Charlotte Defensive End Eyabi-Okie Anoma praised Defensive Coordinator Ryan Osborn for his motivational speeches leading up to this game, saying “During the week, Coach Osborn was really hard on me. They said we know you’re a big name, but we’re still waiting for you to show up. Show me something. I like getting challenged, that’s how I respond to adversity. Hearing that made me go into this game with my hair on fire.”
3) Offensive Line’s Progression
The offensive line took big strides in this game.
Coach Poggi at Tuesday’s presser: “[Florida] has 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”
This game was huge for the Niners offensive line. The official attendance number in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium was 89,053. Despite the deafening crowd, Charlotte only had 2 false start penalties on offense, and zero offsides on defense.
Coach Poggi Post-Game: “The offensive line played well. Kyle Devan does a great job, they’re getting better every second of every day. Mike Miller and the offensive staff put a great plan together. We have to stop making mistakes, which we will. It’s a brand new football team, we’ve played four games...with that said, we do not want to be a team that loses football games. We have a lot of work to do, and we’ll get started on that tomorrow when we get back”.
The Niners will travel back to Charlotte tomorrow before getting ready to hop back on the road to Dallas for conference play. Although they did not walk out of The Swamp with a win, the Niners look to use this performance as a springboard for the rest of their season.