Saturday, November 3, 2018

49ers Fall Short in Knoxville

The Charlotte 49ers (4-5) battled the SEC's Tennessee Volunteers (4-5), Saturday, in front of a crowd of 86,753, the largest crowd to see a 49ers' football game, but dropped a 14-3 decision in non-conference play on the road.

"You come on the road in a tough environment and play against a good team and do some good things but we don't play the game to come close," said 49ers head coach Brad Lambert.  "I told the guys in the locker room -- you play to come in here and win. There were some situations in there that we could have had an opportunity to win the game and that's what you want to do."

Charlotte's defense held Tennessee to 192 yards of total offense, including 20 in the running game, but an early punt return for a TD and a first-quarter touchdown pass gave the Vols all the scoring they would need.

Charlotte held Tennessee scoreless for the final three quarters, but could not break through in the end zone. This is the first time this season that Charlotte has held an opponent scoreless in the second half. Freshman kicker Jonathan Cruz's 20-yard field goal late in the first half was the 49ers scoring.

Charlotte put up 244 yards of total offense. Junior back Benny LeMay had 81 yards rushing and Evan Shirreffs was 13-of-25 for 152 yards, but Charlotte, which faced difficult field position all day, was 5-of-15 on third down.

After an illegal formation forced a rekick of a punt inside the Tennessee 10, the Vols Marquez Callaway broke off an 82-yard return to give the Vols a 7-0 lead with 7:42 remaining in the first quarter.

As the first quarter came to a close, UT QB Jarrett Guarantano threw a 16-yard pass to Josh Palmer to wrap up a six-play, 63-yard drive and put the Vols ahead, 14-0.

The 49ers drove 87 yards in the final six minutes of the half, but a third and goal pass from the three went high and Charlotte settled for Cruz's 20-yard field goal to make it 14-3 at the half.

Statistically, Charlotte had 157 yards of total offense compared with 93 from the home-standing Vols in the first half. Charlotte, which ranks in the top 20 in the FBS in rushing defense, held Tennessee to no rushing yards in the first half.  The Vols, of course, had the punt return for a TD and 93 yards passing.

R-jr. defensive end Alex Highsmith had 7 tackles, including 4.0 TFL and 1.5 sacks. Jr. safety Ben DeLuca led the 49ers with nine tackles.

"Ultimately we didn't get the win, that's all that matters," said Highsmith afterward. "Coach (Glenn) Spencer's package puts us in a great position upfront to stop the run. I think it starts with how we prepare.  Practice is where it's made at.  We just came out and want to use our hands and attack them and play violently with them.

Tennessee is the fourth opponent to be held below 50 yards rushing by the 49ers this season.  Charlotte has held three of its last four opponents under 50 yards rushing.

Guarantano completed 16-of-21 passes for 172 yards and one TD.  Palmer, who caught the first quarter TD pass, had four catches with 71 yards.

Charlotte travels to Marshall, next week, for a Conference USA matchup.

"We're back in the league (next week), so that's got to be our focus tomorrow," Lambert added.