49ers face a tough opponent in Illinois
In what is arguably the toughest game the 49ers will have had yet, the Charlotte 49ers will travel to Champagne, Illinois to face the Illinois Fighting Illini. If there is one thing that the Illini like to do, is they like to run the ball. If you have followed Charlotte football closely this season, you will know that this is not their strong suit on the defensive side of the ball. So, all that into consideration, here are some pregame thoughts on this matchup between the 49ers and Fighting Illini.
As stated, the 49ers’ run defense will have a huge task on their hands come Saturday. For reference, the fighting Illini returns 99% of their rushing production from last season which just so happens to have finished third in the Big Ten in total yards and yards per game. What does this mean for Charlotte? Kryptonite. No, but on a serious note, it will mean that Charlotte will need the best game they have had this year defending the run.
Illinois has a lot of backs that they utilize, but one stands above the rest. That young man’s name is Josh McCray. The 6’1, 240 pound running back had his best game of the season last game against Purdue with 156 yards on the ground. While he might not be to the level of Duke’s Mateo Durant at the moment, McCray is just a freshman with a lot of room for improvement. He will definitely be someone the 49ers will have to keep their eye on every down he is on the field.
“They are in the Big Ten, they are known for having big lineman and big backs as well as running the football,” linebacker Luke Martin said in the team’s mid-week press conference.
“It’s not hard to turn the film on and realize that they have very good players,” Healy said. “Their coach has been about winning on the line of scrimmage and winning time of possession for a long time.”
The 49ers will need to continue to have a great offensive showing if they want to walk out of Champaign with a win. In the 42-39 win over Middle Tennessee, the 49ers had over 500 yards of total offense and will likely need another outburst against Illinois. Illinois’ defense is a bit better than Middle Tennessee’s being that they only gave up 13 points to Purdue, and it will be a tough test for Charlotte.
“I can’t really give up the scheme,” receiver Victor Tucker said jokingly. “Football comes down to three things; run, blocking and catching. If we do those things at a high level, we can definitely play with anybody.”
“I think they (Illinois) have done a really good job defensively,” Healy said. I think their interior defensive lineman are very good players. They have good linebackers who run well and are physical. Their safeties do a good job and I can’t really think of a whole lot of weaknesses for them defensively.”
All-in-all, the 49ers have their work cut out for them. It will not be an easy matchup by any stretch of the means, and Charlotte will likely have to have their best game of the season if they want to improve to 4-1 on the season. Catch the action on the Big Ten Network at 12 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 2 as the 49ers look to knock off the second power five team of the season.