Charlotte getting biggest test ever in Clemson

A trip to Death Valley to face the national champs awaits the 2-1 49ers

Containing Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence is one of several tasks for the 49ers this weekend if they wish to compete with the Tigers. (Steve Jacobs / AP Photo)

Fans, overjoyed by upset wins, often call out the national champions with a chant of, “We want Clemson!”

Charlotte, who has opened the season 2-1 under new coach Will Healy, doesn’t need to chant.

The 49ers will be getting Clemson this weekend, whether they’re ready or not.

Since beginning its FBS program in 2015, Charlotte has had one game a season against a Power Five team to serve as a measuring stick.

For the most part, the yardstick has been more of a whipping stick. The 49ers lost 58-10 on the road to a Kentucky team that finished 5-7 in 2015. The following year, Charlotte opened the season at Louisville, who would finish 9-4, losing 70-14.

A trip to Kansas State (8-5) in 2017 ended in a 55-7 loss. Last year was the closest Charlotte has come to pulling an upset, losing to 5-7 Tennessee, 14-3.

Needless to say, in all their trips to Power Five opponents, the 49ers haven’t seen anyone remotely close to what Clemson has in store for them.

Healy has been very complimentary of the Tigers, telling the media this week that, “If (Clemson coach Dabo Swinney) had a church, I’d be there every Sunday.”

It’s the first meeting between the two schools, and Clemson hasn’t been a very welcoming host to first-timers in recent years. The Tigers beat Kent State 56-3 in 2017 and Georgia Southern 38-7 last year. They’ve won five straight first-time meetings and 13 of 14 dating back to 2003.

Oh, and Clemson also just happens to be the top-ranked team in the nation and defending national champion. The Tigers have won a school-record 19 straight games, the last 13 by at least two touchdowns.

Clemson is also the only team in the country to beat three Power Five opponents this season, with wins over Georgia Tech, Texas A&M and Syracuse.

The Tigers won those games by a combined 117-30, and Clemson coaches are trying to figure out what’s ailing the offense.

Quarterback and Heisman candidate Trevor Lawrence has five interceptions through three games, already topping last season’s total of four. Running back and fellow national award candidate Travis Etienne has average 64.4 yards the last two weeks with no touchdowns.

“We’re not a championship-caliber team right now,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney complained.

“The only way to be great is to wake up every morning looking for ways to improve and get better,” co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott said. “It doesn’t matter what happened good or bad, we’ve got to improve.”

Despite his “slump,” Lawrence was named the ACC Quarterback of the Week for last Saturday’s performance, completing 22 of 39 passes for a career-high 395 yards and three touchdowns. He’s also rushed for a touchdown in all three games this year.

Charlotte’s offense has been hitting on all cylinders. The 49ers scored a school-record 52 points in a win over UMass last week. For the year, Charlotte is averaging 47 points per game and has topped 40 in all three games for the first time in school history.

The 35-point win was Charlotte’s largest margin of victory in school history. The 49ers currently rank 14th in FBS in scoring offense.

Charlotte has also put up at least 500 yards of offense and had a rushing touchdown of 50 yards or longer in all three games. The 49ers are seventh in the nation in rushing offense.

Quarterback Chris Reynolds, who had to defend his starting job in a preseason quarterback competition, is among national leaders in completion percentage (69.8%), touchdown passes (7) and passer rating (178.4).

Reynolds and the 49ers will find the going significantly tougher in Death Valley than it was against Gardner-Webb, App State and UMass.

The Tigers have dominated the line of scrimmage the last two years, leading the nation in sack differential with 68 sacks on defense compared to just 19 allowed.

Clemson had eight sacks and 15 tackles for loss at Syracuse last week and has had multiple sacks in 11 straight games.

The Tigers have had an interception in seven straight games, and since the 2018 postseason began with the ACC Championship Game, Clemson has outscored opponents 76-7 in points off turnovers.

Despite the numbers heralding a blowout, the Charlotte players are ready to get measured against the champs. While they’re not chanting, “We want Clemson,” they have been trying to use “shock the world” as a rallying cry.

“I’d rather they tell that to me,” Healy said. “Not you.”