Records: Charlotte (0-0, 0-0 C-USA) vs. Gardner-Webb (0-0, 0-0 Big South)
Date & Time: Thursday, August 29th, 7:30 PM
Location: Jerry Richardson Stadium, Charlotte, NC
Betting Line: Charlotte -32.5 O/U: 52.5
All-Time Series Record: Tied 1-1
Previous Matchup: Charlotte 53, Gardner-Webb 51 (October 5, 2013). The 49ers scored 22 unanswered points to overcome a 45-24 deficit in the fourth quarter at home during their two-year stint in the FCS.
Gardner-Webb’s Outlook: Coming off a 3-8 season, Carrol McCray is looking for his young core to take the next step in the Big South. With 17 underclassmen starting, the Runnin’ Bulldogs will have an entirely new look in 2019.
Sophomore QB Jordan Smith was thrown into the fire last season, but he held his own throwing for over 1,500 yards and 10 touchdowns. The Bulldogs lacked a consistent rushing attack last season, with their leading rusher being Jalyn Cagle with 474 yards.
2nd Team All-Big South linebacker Darien Reynolds headlines the defensive unit, totaling 75 tackles, 3 TFL, and one interception in his sophomore season. Reynolds will have his hands full trying to slow down Benny LeMay and Aaron McAllister’s thunder and lightning combo.
Gardner-Webb’s offense produced 20.1 points per game in 2018, placing 102nd in the FCS. If the Bulldogs are going to stay in this game, an early interception and score would be crucial. Charlotte hasn’t named a starter at quarterback, and doesn’t plan to until the game begins, so a turnover could create immediate animosity on the opposing sideline.
If the Bulldogs can’t slow down the rushing attack, they’ll be in for a long night in the Queen city.
Keys to stealing a game on the road:
- Neutralize the rushing attack
- Finish drives by getting in the endzone
- Create turnovers early and often
Charlotte’s Outlook: The buzz around the 49ers program has a lot of eyes on Will Healy’s group, and getting their first win Thursday night under the lights is the only way to start the Healy era.
Injuries and precaution prevented the 49ers from showing their full offensive capabilities through spring ball and summer practice, but coach Healy expects all his weapons to be active come game time.
It’s normally concerning to let a QB battle continue into the season, but it’s been a minimal distraction for the 49ers. Chris Reynolds and Brett Kean have battled for the starting spot since Kean arrived on campus in July, and with just 10 days between now and a trip to Boone, I believe a starter will be named following their week one matchup.
With Jonathon Cruz’s outstanding performance in his freshman season, you can expect the 49ers to feel comfortable sending the field goal unit out after they cross midfield. The 49ers were a middle of the pack team in terms of kick and punt returns last season, but senior Nafees Lyon and Tennessee transfer Marquill Osborne have the speed and quickness to break games open.
If Charlotte can put pressure on Gardner-Webb’s defense early, this one could get ugly.
Keys to bringing home the first win under Will Healy:
- Feed Benny LeMay
- Rush the passer and avoid the big play
- Get off the field on 3rd down
Prediction: I believe that Will Healy and company will rely heavily on Benny LeMay to do damage against the Bulldogs defense, in turn, opening up the passing game for whomever is at the helm. The 49ers will be without senior captain Tyriq Harris due to lower-back tightness, but I believe the rest of the defense will step up in his absence. Carrol McCray’s group contains a variety of young playmakers, but I believe Alex Highsmith and Ben DeLuca have big games for Marcus West’s unit. Healy will play both quarterbacks in Thursday night’s game, and I expect he will ride the hot hand to a 38-13 victory over Gardner-Webb.