Butch Davis, FIU host Charlotte

Former UNC coach and his new team finally return home following hurricane

FIU coach Butch Davis was previously head coach at UNC. (John Glaser / USA TODAY Sports)

The Charlotte football team may be dealing with adversity, having gone through its first four games without a win and with an offense that’s been so bad, coach Brad Lambert has already made changes to the way his team calls its plays.

But those are just minor inconveniences compared to what this week’s opponent, Florida International has been through this season.

Beaten 61-17 by Central Florida in their opening game under new coach Butch Davis, the Panthers then had to deal with a hurricane that displaced them for a week, forced the rescheduling of a game and caused immeasurable anguish among the players, coaches and their families.

UNC Charlotte at FIU
Riccardo Silva Stadium, Miami  |  Saturday, 7 p.m.

“Everyone in South Florida has faced enormous challenges with Hurricane Irma,” said Davis, whose team was evacuated to Birmingham, Ala., to escape the storm. “Being in Birmingham for eight days and wondering what kind of damage took place back home and how is my family, I think we did a remarkable job of being able to focus when we asked them to focus on football.

“When it was time to focus on family, we did everything we could to make sure they stayed in contact. They’ve handled it with a lot of maturity.”

If anyone is used to coaching his way around distractions it’s Davis, who led UNC to eight wins and a trip to the Music City Bowl in 2010 even as his program was under the cloud of an NCAA investigation that ultimately led to probation and his firing.

His current team has managed to overcome its current upheaval by winning both its games since Irma’s landfall on the Florida mainland as a Category 3 hurricane on Sept. 10.

After beating Alcorn State 17-10 in a game that was moved to Birmingham’s Legion Field, then knocking off Rice 13-7 on the road in Houston last week, Davis and his Panthers are looking forward to finally playing their home opener Saturday against the winless 49ers.

“Obviously you’d like to have an opportunity to play earlier, but the kids were remarkable going on the road three weeks in a row,’ Davis said. “It will be good to play in front of the fans, the student body and their families. I know they’re very excited about it.”

Charlotte (0-4) figures to be the perfect foil for a happy homecoming, having been outscored 142-45 this season and coming off the first shutout loss in the program’s five-year history — a 28-0 whitewash at the hands of Georgia State.

The 49ers rank 127th among the nation’s 129 FBS programs in scoring offense, but have actually held their own defensively. Despite their performance thus far, Davis is wary of the 49ers.

“They’ve got areas on that football team that are very good,” he said.

As bad as the 49ers have been offensively, to the point that earlier in the week Lambert replaced offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen with offensive line coach Greg Adkins, the Panthers haven’t been much better.

They are averaging only 15.7 points through their first three games.

One bright spot, however, has been the play of tight end Pharaoh McKever — a transfer from NC State who scored the game’s only touchdown in last week’s win at Rice.

“He’s the kind of tight end you love to have on your football team,” Davis said of the 6-foot-6, 248-pound graduate student from Tabor City. “He gives you somebody at the point of attack and on the edge who’s able to block and it was great to get him involved in the passing game, because he’s a big target.”