We’re back with another (homecoming) edition of the opponent breakdown. Tennessee will welcome in the Charlotte 49ers to Neyland Stadium for a non-conference match-up. Before we dig into the film, a little background information on the 49ers is in order. Charlotte enters with a 4-4 (3-2) record, good enough for 4th in the Conference-USA Eastern Division. They have played well at home so far, but have been winless on the road. Despite this fact, they have an outside shot at winning their division and playing for a C-USA title, which I touched on in this week’s staff predictions post. If you’re looking for some more background on the Charlotte 49ers Connor Knapp put together a great preview right here.
Let’s get to why you’re reading this article - the X’s and O’s. Now, this will come as a total shock to many (heavy sarcasm implied), but there is not a tremendous amount of full game footage available to the public for the Charlotte 49ers. I know, crazy, right? We’ll make do with what we have. I’m going to level with you - because of the lack of full game copies this will not be a mega-article like past breakdowns. We’re limited in terms of tendencies we can point out. For example, it’s difficult to say “watch for this on third down” when we don’t have all of the third downs to look at and analyze. But, what we can do is give you a taste of what Charlotte offers both offensively and defensively. Hopefully, like past breakdowns, that is enough to help improve your watching experience on game day.
When I watch Charlotte what sticks out to me most is their numbers in the box defensively. Here are a few examples of what I mean.
I selected these examples because they are not particularly passing downs. Against Middle Tennessee State it is 1st and 10 in the red zone. Against Southern Miss there is a 1st and 10 with the Golden Eagles backed up. Lastly, there is Old Dominion in a 2nd and 1. Also, all of these examples come from the first half of close games. Therefore, it isn’t as though this is some type of prevent defense simply trying to avoid giving up the big play. Even though we don’t have the full games to look at it is safe to conclude that this is typically how Charlotte will play defensively.
Now when you look at the still shots of these images, you would probably assume that opponents absolutely gouge Charlotte on the ground. Strangely, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Charlotte is ranked 6th in the nation in rushing defense, giving up only 89.8 yards per game on the ground. Perhaps this is because they give up significantly more yardage through the air? Well, that’s not necessarily correct either, as the 49ers defense ranks 69th in passing yards per game. Not great, but certainly not rock bottom.
There are many factors that play into their high ranking in rush defense. One is the way they play offensively. Charlotte dominates time of possession. They have won the time of possession battle in every game except for one. That game was their most recent, a 20-17 win over Southern Miss where the Golden Eagles had the edge in time of possession by a mere 42 seconds. By having the edge in this category so heavily it limits the amount of time the opposing team has the ball and can run. Secondly, and I mean no disrespect, their competition this season hasn’t exactly been elite. They have only played three teams with winning records, and have lost to all three. Thirdly, and credit to the 49ers, is that they do play aggressively on defense and swarm to the football.
At times this strategy of lower numbers in the box to defend the pass and aggressively pursuing the run is effective.
At other times, it is not.
The above two examples of successful running are what I am looking for from Tennessee’s offense tomorrow, and it would show growth on a number of fronts. The quarterback in Tennessee’s offense is responsible for quite a bit at the line of scrimmage. Can the quarterback, whoever that happens to be, recognize a numbers advantage in the box and get Tennessee into a simple running play? Can the offensive line, albeit not at full strength, physically dominate up front to create holes for the Vols’ talented and powerful backfield? My suspicion is that Tennessee can accomplish both of those things Saturday and it will be a big day for the ball carriers.
We reached out on Twitter to see if there were any questions we could answer specifically. Here is a great one from WackoVol!
Their running back has high yards on low carries. Good offensive line or is he just their workhorse back?— Wacko (@WackoVol) November 2, 2018
Charlotte starting running back Benny LeMay has 141 carries on the year, which is actually more than any single rusher on Tennessee’s team. This mark is good for 24th in the country in terms of overall attempts. LeMay’s 6 touchdowns on the ground this year are more than half of what Tennessee has produced rushing as a team (11). So I wouldn’t necessarily agree that he has low carries. But, he is definitely a workhorse back, and they do some interesting things up front and with motion to create running lanes.
One concept that Charlotte has used this season with great success is a single back formation and running LeMay in the opposite direction of motion. Here is an example from three weeks ago against Western Kentucky.
The wide receiver comes in an orbit motion behind LeMay from the offensive right to left, while the line blocks a “split zone” play up front. The offensive line does a great job, and the defense is a little hesitant due to the motion. LeMay begins to the right, makes a good read of his key, and cuts back for a touchdown run.
A week later, against Middle Tennessee State, the 49ers came back to a similar concept. They incorporate a gap scheme run with pulling guards (green) designed to keep the play to the frontside, whereas in the previous example LeMay was able to make a cutback based on his read of the offensive line. Again, this run play beings from a single back formation and the play direction is toward the side where the orbit motion originates.
What you notice on these running plays is that LeMay doesn’t necessarily have break-away speed. He is a powerful runner that can break tackles and make tacklers miss. This is true between the offensive tackles as well. Here are a few more examples.
Tennessee struggled with stopping the run last week against South Carolina, especially in the second half. It will be interesting to see if Charlotte can have similar success running the football on Tennessee’s defense. If they do, it will almost certainly be Benny LeMay shouldering the workload.
That is a brief look at what Charlotte likes to do from an X’s and O’s standpoint. Watch out for this on Saturday, and pay close attention to what Tennessee does to counter. Have you noticed anything about Charlotte schematically? Let us know in the comments below or by reaching out on Twitter! Enjoy your homecoming responsibly, and Go Vols!