The Charlotte 49ers will be facing their second straight nationally ranked opponent in their home opener at Jerry Richardson Stadium on Saturday at 6 p.m.
North Carolina A&T checks in at No. 25 in this week’s FCS poll.
That might not seem as impressive as the No. 19 beside the name of last week’s FBS foe Kansas State, which rolled to a 55-7 victory in coach Brad Lambert’s return to his alma mater. But that doesn’t mean the 49ers’ task will be any easier.
Especially on defense.
The Aggies have scored 101 points in their first two games and quarterback Lamar Raynard leads the nation in passing efficiency while throwing 92 passes without an interception. While the competition they’ve faced is admittedly suspect — their 56-0 victory last Saturday came against Division II Mars Hill — they present a challenge to any defense they face because of their abundance of playmakers.
Seven different players have scored at least one touchdown in A&T’s two victories thus far.
“We’ve got weapons,” Marquell Cartwright, the team’s leading rusher, said after Saturday’s lopsided win. “When you’ve got that many weapons you’ve got to use them. That’s why our scores keep going up.”
Because the Aggies will be moving up a level against an FBS foe, the explosiveness of their offense will be just as tested as the resilience of Charlotte’s defense, which gave a much better accounting of itself in a season-opening 24-7 loss at Eastern Michigan.
The 49ers are allowing an average of 443 yards per game and while all seven of the touchdowns they’ve allowed have come on the ground, their first two opponents are averaging nearly 12 yards per reception and have converted almost half of their third down opportunities.
The defense, however, wasn’t totally to blame for the lopsided score at Kansas State — where Lambert was a defensive back during the mid-1980s. Two of the Wildcats’ touchdowns came off mistakes by the offense, a 30-yard pick six and a 46-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown, both by Kendall Adams.
Giving up points hasn’t been the only problem for the 49ers’ offense.
In fact, the 14 points it allowed Kansas State to score Saturday is the same number it has put onto the scoreboard in its first two games combined.
Quarterback Hasaan Klugh avoided the shutout last week with a 19-yard touchdown run late in the first quarter, but he and his teammates have struggled to move the ball while averaging only 226.5 yards per game. Klugh has completed only 46 percent of his passes for an average of just 3.13 yards per attempt. As a team, Charlotte has been intercepted five times and has not completed a pass of more than 26 yards.
“It’s a hard enough game when you don’t make those mistakes,” Lambert said earlier this season. “But when you put yourselves behind the chains, it’s just too difficult.”