CHARLOTTE 49ERS (0-2, 0-1 C-USA) vs NORTH TEXAS MEAN GREEN (1-2, 0-1 C-USA)
Date/Time: Saturday, October 10th, 8:00 PM ET, 7:00 PM CT
Location: Apogee Stadium, Denton, TX
Fan Capacity: 8,000 (25%)
Betting Line: Charlotte -3 (O/U 67.5)
All-Time Series Record: Charlotte 1-0
Previous Matchup: The 49ers scored 32 points in the second half and Chris Reynolds found Victor Tucker for the game-winning touchdown with 18 seconds remaining.
The first matchup between these two programs came midway through the 2019 season and proved to be the turning point for a 49ers’ unit that was battling a four-game losing skid. This time, Charlotte sits at 0-2 following two heartbreaking losses in winnable games against both the reigning Sun Belt and C-USA conference champions.
“I don’t think this team knows how good they can be,” Coach Healy said on Tuesday’s press conference. “We still don’t necessarily have an identity. We still don’t have the camaraderie that I would like to have at this point. But I think that the talent and the character of this football team will be really good in November.”
The 49ers have positioned themselves for victory late in the fourth quarter of both contests in 2020, and the flashes of a good football team are becoming more prominent. Charlotte put together a complete game for 50 of the 60 minutes at FAU and has a chance to build on that with their third consecutive road game.
North Texas has lit up the scoreboard early and often this season, averaging 41 points and 573 yards per game. This last time these teams met it was a shootout that was decided on a Reynolds-Tucker touchdown connection with just 18 seconds remaining, and if the 49ers find themselves in that situation again this Saturday, they have full faith in Reynolds to deliver.
“That dude is a dog,” Cameron Dollar said following his 96-yard performance at FAU. “There’s no other person I’d rather rally this team behind. He’s an unbelievable warrior.”
The highlight offensively was Reynolds’ ability to extend plays and keep his eyes downfield, but the emergence of a reliable run-game will do wonders for opening up the lanes in the secondary.
Tre Harbison has scored a touchdown in both contests this season but has struggled to get things going in the second half. Harbison has just 19 total yards on the ground in the second half through two games, three against Appalachian State and 16 against Florida Atlantic. Two focal points of practice this week have been preparing for the up-tempo look North Texas will utilize and getting the run-game in gear.
The defense was lockdown for three of the four quarters last week and has their work cut out for them against an explosive offense. After racking up 37 sacks last season, the 49ers are yet to record one in 2020. While Alex Highsmith is off wreaking havoc in the NFL, Tyriq Harris and Romeo McKnight have been the 49ers’ most impactful defensive linemen with Markees Watts listed as questionable to play this week. McKnight earned his first start as a 49er against FAU and led the team with 10 tackles, two for loss.
Will Healy’s first signature win in Charlotte came against North Texas in 2019 which sparked a five-game win streak. This one could yet again be the turning point that gets this team going.
NORTH TEXAS OUTLOOK
The Mean Green have dropped two straight as contact tracing has depleted their defensive unit with over 20 players missing time. The struggle of the plug-and-play cycle of 2020 has cost them as opponents are scoring 45 points and slashing the defense for 572 yards per game.
With an abundance of guys returning following their quarantine, this unit will have a much different look against a Charlotte team that’s scoring only 18.5 points per game.
What looked to be a Fine-replacement in their week one victory of Houston Baptist has turned to Fine-replacements as the quarterback tandem of Jason Bean and Austin Aune have both seen substantial time at the helm. Austin Aune got the starting nod against SMU last week and completed 28 of his 47 passes for 339 yards and two touchdowns.
Aune was drafted 89th overall by the New York Yankees and was with the organization for just over six years before making the jump to college football. The 27-year-old sophomore was named the full-time starter earlier this week.
Aune’s favorite target, Jaelon Darden, has continued his dominance from 2019 through the first three weeks of this season as he has accounted for 241 yards and 6 touchdowns, scoring in every game so far. Darden torched Charlotte for 104 yards and a touchdown last season and you can expect to hear his name called often with wideout Jyaire Shorter missing Saturday’s contest.
“He’s a huge weapon,” Aune said about Darden. “If they leave him one-on-one, we are going to get him the ball. If they put two guys on him, we’ve got other playmakers too. He opens up for other players, he’s a big part of what makes our offense go.”
The defensive side of the ball has been the Mean Green’s kryptonite with so many key players out. True freshman Upton Stout and junior KD Davis spearhead the unit, with the latter leading the team with 23 total tackles.
Seth Littrell’s team turned it over four times against Southern Miss and had a field goal blocked in the 41-31 defeat last Saturday. Cleaning up the mental errors and not having running backs playing linebacker will make for an entirely different unit moving forward. Having a chance to avenge last season’s loss and secure their first conference win is all the motivation this team needs.
“Every loss is tough. If you start getting comfortable with losing, then you don’t need to be around here,” Littrell said during his weekly press conference. “It’s never fun, it’s never easy, we are always looking to go out there and compete and win football games.”
Expect to see an up-tempo offense that isn’t scared to take risks throwing the ball down the field. The backfield rotation has shifted to the combination of DeAndre Torrey and Tre Siggers with starter Oscar Adaway III out following consecutive 100-yard performances.
The Charlotte 49ers are coming into this one as favorites for the first time this season, and while the frustrations of losing two very winnable contests loom, Will Healy has brought the positivity and maturity to keep this inexperienced unit headed in the right direction. I think we will see another solid performance from Reynolds and a tone-setting first win for this Charlotte squad. Charlotte 35, North Texas 24.