Matchup: FAU (3-4, 2-1 AAC) @ Charlotte (2-5, 1-2 AAC)
When: Saturday, October 27th, 7:30 PM
Where: Jerry Richardson Stadium
Radio: FoxSports 640
Opening Line: FAU -5.5
Weather Forecast: Current conditions in Charlotte, NC
The Series: This will be the Owls' ninth matchup in program history against Charlotte, going 6-2 in their eight previous encounters. FAU is 5-7 all-time against AAC opponents.
Charlotte Team Site: Here
It was a huge eye-opener for the Owls to have lost to UTSA the way they did, even though they were underdogs going into the game this past Saturday.
FAU may not have felt overconfident against the Roadrunners even with the 2-0 start they had in conference play prior to the matchup, but going from producing 587 yards against USF to just 162 is surely a strong wake-up call for the Owls to make adjustments, learn their lessons, and be ready for their remaining matchups regardless of the talent gap they might have.
They now move forward to a duel that seems to be favorable on paper. FAU has won six of their last eight contests against the 49ers which includes an active four-game winning streak dating back to then-head coach Lane Kiffin's last season with the program in 2019. The last two affairs both ended up being blowout victories (38-9 in 2021 and 43-13 in 2022) for the Owls. This is also a chance for the team to get their second win on the road, which would be the first time they have done so in a season since 2019.
With the injuries FAU has sustained in their defense, they have seen some players step up to the plate, namely safety Amari Wansley (pictured below via Bob Markey II). He led the team in tackles with 12 (five solo) against the Roadrunners, providing much-needed contributions to a position that hasn't been at full strength since the season opener. The redshirt sophomore currently has 26 tackles (15 solo) and one pass deflection in six games this season, surpassing the 24 tackles (14 solo) he made in 11 games throughout 2022.
"It felt great to be able to go out there and contribute. But it was definitely not the way we wanted to play tonight and we just have to do better in all phases in the game," Wansley said following Saturday's performance.
Wide receiver Je'Quan Burton was one of the few bright spots from the Owls' offense. On a night where lead receiver Lajohntay Wester was limited to 14 yards on four catches against a tough UTSA defense, Burton showcased his effectiveness in drawing coverage from defenders, leading the team with 68 receiving yards on five catches. His production, alongside the rest of the receiving corps, would be key to keeping opposing defenses honest and allowing Wester to get the space he needs to dominate throughout the course of the game.
The defense needs to come through with key stops down the stretch. They allowed UTSA to go 7-16 on third-down conversions, and with Charlotte having gone 3-15 in that category (22-96 this season) against East Carolina, the Owls have to take advantage of that weakness.
After this matchup, FAU will drop by Birmingham for a date with the UAB Blazers on November 4th at 3:00 PM. The contest will be broadcast on ESPN+.
Star Watch: S Jarron Morris One of the star contributors in the FAU defense, Morris could be due for a big performance against the 49ers. With Charlotte having thrown eight total interceptions this season which ranks in the bottom 50 of the nation, Morris has a chance to tally another one to his season stats. In seven games, he has 42 tackles (23 solo) including three for a loss of yardage, four pass breakups, two forced fumbles, and two picks.
Final Word The Owls could chalk up Saturday's loss against UTSA as an off night, but their struggles in converting third downs and getting first downs as a whole needs to be addressed as soon as possible before they begin their first snap against the 49ers. With Charlotte's offensive hardships ranking them as the second-worst scoring offense in the country with 14.6 points per game, the defense should be able to bounce back by asserting themselves to give the 49ers a difficult night for all four quarters.
With this game being the second time the team will be on ESPN2 this year, it is possible to expect FAU to come out the gates firing on all cylinders.
Key Stats Comparison
It took a lot for Charlotte to get their first win in conference play as a member of The American, but they finally did it and in gritty fashion.
Defense was the best way to describe their performance against East Carolina, squeezing out a 10-7 victory to get their second win in seven games this season. They held the Pirates to 127 total yards, a program record for the 49er defense. This is the fifth time this season they held their opponent under 400 yards of total offense. Last year, Charlotte had three such games.
Charlotte recorded six tackles for loss against the Pirates, the fifth time this year that the 49ers have had six or more. Last year, Charlotte achieved the feat four times. This is an area that FAU, who conceded 13 of them against UTSA, will have to take seriously with solid protection and blocking if they wish to have a productive night offensively.
QB Jalon Jones rushed for a career-high 127 yards, the first 100-yard rushing performance by a 49er this season. He leads the team in rushing yards with 447 and touchdowns with four, while throwing for 564 yards and two scores with a 61.1 completion percentage this season.
Even though Charlotte's offense hasn't shown itself to be the most productive, it has a knack for holding the ball as long as possible. Their total time of possession is 227 minutes, ranking 14th in the country of keeping opposing offenses off the field.
One standout player in the 49ers' defense is Eyabi Okie-Anoma. The defensive end recorded his fifth sack of the season against the Pirates, tying for the fifth-most in a single-season by a 49er. He has 37 tackles (16 solo) including 8.5 for a loss of yardage, nine quarterback hurries, and a forced fumble.
A weakness in Charlotte's offense is their ability to protect the quarterback. They have given up 19 sacks this season, putting them in the bottom 30 (100th) of the country in that statistic.
After this matchup, the 49ers will travel west to Oklahoma to play the Tulsa Golden Hurricane on November 4th at 4:00 PM. The contest will be broadcast on ESPN+.
Star Watch: LB Demetrius Knight II Knight had a team-high nine tackles, including two tackles for loss, to go with two pass breakups to help Charlotte get the road win over East Carolina. Knight led a 49er defense to help set the aforementioned program record of 127 allowed total yards from the Pirates, while forcing East Carolina into seven three-and-outs. Knight, a transfer from Georgia Tech, leads the 49ers with 49 tackles this season. He has added 5.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks and had a pick six in the 49ers' non-conference game at Maryland.
Final Word Charlotte's ability to convert on third down will be put to the test, possessing the worst rate among 130 teams in the nation at 23%. The 49ers have likened to utilize the run game more often than the pass, meaning that they will look to quarterback Jalon Jones or running backs Terron Kellman, Shadrick Byrd, and Durell Robinson to do the dirty work before going to the multiple options they have at receiver.
Playing at home in front of a national audience on ESPN2, the 49ers will want to impress defensive enthusiasts and recruits who are looking for a competitive matchup on Friday night.