A data-driven look at Charlotte Football

by Oct 7, 2022Football

Photo Credit: Sam Roberts, Freeze Frame

Right now there is a lot of noise around Will Healy’s job security after Charlotte football has started 1-5 (0-2). The purpose of this post is to bring data to the discussion. When assessing a program, I personally feel it’s best to let data tell the story and not become distracted with things that are ultimately immaterial (culture and sideline dancing come to mind) and don’t impact on-the-field results.

Since the 2019 season and Charlotte’s first ever bowl appearance, Healy’s teams are 8-16 overall, including a home loss to FCS opponent William & Mary this season, and a 5-9 conference record. Beyond that right now Charlotte has allowed 40-plus points in 9 consecutive games, and in 10 our of their last 11. Per the School Streak Finder (here), this is tied for the longest such streak since 1869 (UMASS 2019-2020) (view screenshot via @ericedwards). In case you are curious as to what happened to the coach/coaches during that streak (screenshot) via @houstonniner, not great signs to be in this list. The only coach to really overcome this was Ruffin McNeil at ECU, but it didn’t happen this deep into his tenure.

Speaking of that 2019 squad, it caught fire late in the season with the Alex Atkins (Offensive Coordinator) transforming the offense and leveraging Chris Reynolds ability to run. Another key component in 2019 was the defenses ability to rush the quarterback, spearheaded by Alex Highsmith and Markees Watts that group sacked the quarterback 36 times. Since then Charlotte has only tallied 28 sacks over the course of 24 games. The inability to create pressure and havoc in the backfield has been compounded with poor coverage in the secondary. Actions were taken at the conclusion of the 2021 season as both secondary coaches were let go immediately after the season. Later Defensive Coordinator Marcus West left the program in mid-February to become the Buffalo Bills assistant defensive line coach just days after Greg Brown was hired as Co-Defensive Coordinator. Brown subsequently was named solo Defensive Coordinator.

Unfortunately the changes haven’t materialized into on-field results. As previously noted Charlotte has allowed 40-plus points in every game so far this season. Through 6 games the defense is allowing 46.33 points per game, 537 yards per game (284 via pass, 253 via run). Those points per game and yards per game allowed place Charlotte at the bottom of C-USA at the moment, with Charlotte surrendering the 2nd most yards per game in all of FBS, and the most points per game. Last season under Marcus West Charlotte allowed 34 points per game and 465 yards per game. For those without a calculator available, that’s a approximately a 36% increase in points allowed per game, and approximately a 15.5% increase in yards per game. I will never again go into a season with the mindset of “it can’t get worse.”

Offensively has been a mixed bag at times with the availability of Chris Reynolds constantly in flux. What was expected to be a high-octane offense has yet to consistently click due to Reynolds injuries, and as a result, Charlotte is 6th in C-USA in yards per game at 380 (86th nationally) and 9th in points per game at 25.8 (93rd nationally). The offense has been carried via the air so far as Charlotte is 30th nationally with 286 yards per game and 117th nationally in rushing yards per game (94 yards per game).

There really aren’t many, any?, points we can look at and hang our hat on so far this season. I think it’s clear that the pressure is indeed on for results, and so far the only time this has been brought to attention publicly has been on Hunter Bailey’s Highway 49 podcast recently titled “Pain“, and an interview this week by WFNZ host Kyle Bailey where he directly asks Healy this question: “I don’t know any other way to ask this but just as plainly as possible, you’re 1 and 5, I know you know that’s a bad thing and not where you want to be. Do you concern yourself at all with your job security right now?” I think it’s a more than fair question given how the season has unfolded so far, so do yourself a favor and go listen to it. The previous link takes you directly to that portion of the interview.

My thoughts

To be clear and transparent, I personally felt that if the UTEP game had gotten away from Charlotte and if we weren’t competitive versus the Miners, Will Healy could have been fired by Mike Hill. Charlotte was about to rebound after half and kept things from getting out of hand, and ultimately had a chance for Chris Reynolds magic to lead Charlotte to another late-game win. That quickly dissipated with an interception on the first play of the final drive.

Given the overall defensive performance so far to this point in the season, I think it would be understandable if a change was made this week at Defensive Coordinator, but Healy says he sees progress on the defensive side of the ball. Personally, I don’t see it, but I’m not watching film/tape with the team and staff.

What I do know is Charlotte allowed 2 scoop and scores vs UTEP and ultimately let them walk away with a 41-35 victory. As a team the Miners came into the game putting up 16.6 points per game so far this season. By the end of the trip they left the Eastern Time Zone with their first ever win (previously 0-26-1), and just their second time scoring 40-plus points in a game over the last 5 seasons (home loss vs North Texas in Dec 2020 by the final of 45-43 as the last occurrence).

The bye week comes at a critical time for both Will Healy and the program as they to look to reset the seasons direction. Healy has talked about the number of injuries on the defensive side of the ball, which I assume forced former 4-star wide receiver prospect Nolan Groulx to DB vs UTEP, and how this week should help get some of those players back, and allow Chris Reynolds a much-needed break as well.

After the bye Charlotte takes to Birmingham to face UAB (Saturday October 15th at 3:30pm ET). The Blazers are currently 2-2 (0-1) , after dropping their final C-USA opener at Rice last week. They’ll host Middle Tennessee this week. A loss for Charlotte versus the Blazers and interim Head Coach Bryant Vincent, would leave Charlotte at 1-6, needing to reel off 5 consecutive wins to reach bowl eligibility.

A loss at UAB after the bye will only amplify the noise.

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