Key 1 (pregame) ❌
No secret here, Charlotte front 7 have to stop/limit Duke running back Mataeo Durant. Last season Durant tallied 817 yards, with 104 of those coming versus CLT on just 12 carries (2 for TDs). Durant was named to the 2021 preseason ALL-ACC football team. I’ll be keeping an eye on the interior defensive line to see how transfer Joshua Bailey (Iowa State) helps, as well as Jalar Holley (University of Miami transfer that is still waiting to be cleared), perform help here.
Durant lived up to the hype as he tallied 255 yards on 29 carries for 3 touchdowns. Hunter Bailey, Charlotte’s new beat writer via the Charlotte Observer, has reported that Charlotte hopes to have Holley ready moving forward.
Key 2 (pregame) ✅
Special teams. Charlotte would not have won last years contest if special teams were cleaned up, but it would have seemed much more competitive. We’ll see what new Special Teams Coordinator Nick Hancock has done with this group. This is always an area that Duke does well in. Worth monitoring, Charlotte has a true freshman punter in Bailey Rice, who has never played in a American football game. Rice does have 4 years of experience in Austrailian League Football.
Charlotte punted 7 times in this one, Duke returned 2 for a total of -1 yards. Duke had 3 kick returns for a total of 66 yards. All-in-all, a solid showing on the special teams front. Jonathan Cruz connected on all 4 PATs and his only FG attempt (32 yards). Have to give new Special Teams Coordinator Nick Hancock his due, special teams didn’t give Duke any advantages this year.
Key 3 (pregame) ✅
Chris Reynolds has quite a bit of talent on perimeter to get the ball to, but the offensive line has to give him some time. Last year Duke tallied 5 sacks in Durham, can Charlotte keep Reynolds upright in this one? I’ll specifically be keeping an eye how Reynolds is used, with him being at full-strength now, will Offensive Coordinator Mark Carney leverage his legs more via rollouts and RPO’s? When Reynolds is at his best, he’s a threat on the ground.
Duke only got to Reynolds one time for a sack, but they did have 8 pressures, so that will be a situation to monitor as things move forward. And that talent on the peremiter—holy GRANT DUBOSE—talk about making yourself known. What a great story, if you haven’t read up on him, do so now in this Yahoo! story.
Key 4 (pregame) ✅
Charlotte’s defense last year recorded 1 sack and 2 tackles for loss, but no additional QB hurries. The defense will have to find a way to get into the backfield and keep Duke QB Gunnar Holmberg from staying in rhythm. We know when healthy, Markees Watts is skilled at bringing down the QB, but who else is going to help establish the rush?
Watts got the Holmberg onece, as did Notre Dame transfer Kofi Wardlow. Luke Martin and Bryan Wallace each were credited with 0.5 sacks. 8 QB hurries hurries on top of the 3 total sacks show some solid growth from last years defensive performance.
Charlotte hit on 3 out of 4 of my keys, fortunately that coupled with some late-game Chris Reynolds magic was just enough for the Niners to make program history on Friday night at Jerry Richardson Stadium.
Keep an eye out this week as we provide some pregame content for the Gardner-Webb contest this Saturday. Kick-off will be 6pm, you can get tickets from $10-25 via Charlotte49ers.com. Come out and give the guys another electric crowd to play in front of. If you can’t make it, the game will be streamed on ESPN3.