49ers remain plagued by poor quarterback play

Charlotte is 0-9 in Conference USA games

Derik Hamilton—USA TODAY Sports
Charlotte 49ers quarterback Kevin Olsen (2) warms-up prior to a game against the Temple Owls at Lincoln Financial Field inPhiladelphia

Charlotte 49ers coach Brad Lambert’s team is now 0-9 all-time in Conference USA, and subpar quarterback play has been a big factor. His frustration and disappointment were evident following Saturday night’s 52-17 loss to Old Dominion.”Well, nothing went very well tonight,” Lambert said to open his postgame press conference. “Obviously I didn’t have them ready to play. We have to go back and look at everything we’re doing.”He added that he planned to evaluate every position during the week of practice leading up to Charlotte’s trip to Florida Atlantic on Saturday. One of the players he was asked about in particular after the ODU loss was redshirt junior quarterback Kevin Olsen.Considering Lambert’s initial assessment of Olsen’s play last Saturday — “Not very good, nobody was very good” — and the coach’s insistence that every position will be looked at, the quarterback situation is worth keeping a close eye on moving forward.Lambert offered little clarity on the matter at Tuesday’s press conference, saying only that he would assess his players during practice this week. But he did promise that those practices would have a different feel.”We’ve changed the way we’re going to practice,” Lambert said. “We’ve changed some things we’re going to do schematically.”Olsen, now 21, was a highly-touted prospect coming out of high school in 2013. He was expected to lift a passing attack that was anemic a year ago, when three quarterbacks who saw significant action combined to throw 23 interceptions and just 12 touchdowns. But with the exception of Charlotte’s 47-14 win over Elon, the 49ers have struggled to move the ball. Charlotte has totaled just 20 first-half points in its four losses, and a quick look at Olsen’s numbers helps explain the slow starts.Olsen has done a nice job avoiding interceptions, throwing just three through five games. His biggest problems have been his inaccuracy and inability to push the ball down the field. The 49ers are unlikely to end their C-USA losing streak with their top passer completing just 51.6 percent of his passes and averaging 4.9 yards per attempt. Against ODU, Olsen finished 14-of-31 passing for 145 yards, with one touchdown and one interception.His top backup is speedy redshirt sophomore Hasaan Klugh, who entered Saturday’s game with his team down 38-10 early in the third quarter. Klugh ran the offense for four series, finishing 4-of-5 passing for 31 yards. He also rushed six times for 40 yards. On the 49ers’ final possession, which covered 94 yards in 11 plays, he showed off his athletic ability with a 25-yard scramble on 3rd-and-16, later capping the drive with a 4-yard touchdown run.”You always have to be careful in the fourth quarter,” Lambert said of Klugh’s performance against ODU. “You’re playing against their 2’s and 3’s. I like what Hasaan can do. He can always make some plays with his feet. We’re going to look at every position.”Klugh has now played in four of his team’s five games, but he has not yet taken any meaningful snaps. His passing numbers on the year — he has completed 18-of-27 passes for 153 yards and two touchdowns, with no interceptions — are solid. He has also shown an ability to make plays on the ground, with 106 yards on 13 carries, albeit mostly against backups.Another intriguing player at Lambert’s disposal is quarterback-turned-running back Matt Johnson, a punishing runner who has found success on keepers out of the wildcat formation. A backfield featuring Johnson — who has 25 carries for 126 yards on the season — and Klugh is unlikely to be the every-down solution to Charlotte’s offensive woes, but in small doses, it could create issues for defenses.Up ahead for the 49ers are three matchups against porous defenses. Florida Atlantic, Florida International and Marshall have each allowed at least 36 points per game. Should Olsen and the offense continue to sputter, one would have to think it will be time to see whether Klugh can provide a spark.Quick hits, powerful messageFollowing the ODU game, Charlotte linebacker Nick Cook gave a thoughtful answer when asked about the pregame “Circle of Unity.” The gesture was a response to recent unrest in Charlotte and nationwide.”I thought it was a good idea that showed that there is a lot more to life than just football,” Cook said. “Everybody stops playing the game at some point. It was nice to show the city, and show everybody here that was watching, that we can come together, all just as one.”Feeding PhillipsOne of the bright spots in the loss to the Monarchs was running back Kalif Phillips. The second-team all-conference selection in 2015 had his second long touchdown in as many weeks. He followed up his 66-yard TD run against Temple by turning a short pass over the middle into a 42-yard score just before halftime. Phillips ran 16 times for 57 yards against Old Dominion and added 52 yards receiving on two catches.”The nice thing is I feel really good about Kalif right now,” Lambert said. “He’s playing at a pretty high level. We have to continue to give him the ball. He needs to touch the ball as many times as we can get it to him.”Cause for concernWith Hurricane Matthew bearing down on the East Coast, Florida Governor Rick Scott on Wednesday asked President Obama to declare a “pre-landfall” emergency. Thousands began fleeing southeast Florida before Thursday morning, and 1.5 million people statewide were under orders to evacuate. Florida Atlantic, which is located in Boca Raton, canceled its classes and closed its offices from Wednesday at 3 p.m. through Sunday. The university’s athletic department tweeted on Wednesday morning, “All non-athletics activities have been canceled through Sunday. We will update you on this weekend’s games as information becomes available.” The Charlotte-FAU game was originally scheduled to kick off Saturday at 3:30 p.m.