SMU Preview: Giddy up

by Sep 29, 2023Football

Photo credit: SMU Athletics

Charlotte hits the road on Saturday night for their first American Athletic Conference matchup against the SMU Mustangs

The 49ers are coming off a loss to the Florida Gators, but moral victories abound from Charlotte’s time at the Swamp. Charlotte’s effort on the defensive end was by far their best of the season. Florida found pay dirt only once on Saturday, as Charlotte held the traditional SEC power to only 22 points. The number 25 ranked team in the nation drove the ball within 10 yards of the Charlotte end zone three times, and they kicked a field goal on all three drives. The defense was hitting hard and flying all over the field in one of the best efforts the program has put on the field in their short history.

On the other side of the ball, the offense did their best. Jalon Jones took the quarterback job and ran with it, and I’d expect to see him play most, if not all, of the snaps on Saturday evening. Charlotte’s AAC opener should be a fun one. Here are a few things to note as the Niners kick off their inaugural American Conference campaign on Saturday night at 7:30pm ET on ESPNU.

SMU loves to air it out

This needs to be said before we can go anywhere. The Mustangs are 2-2, but both of their losses were on the road against power conference teams. They’re coming off a 34-17 loss to their long-time rival TCU Horned Frogs, and they lost in week two 28-11 to Oklahoma. In that week two game, they actually out-gained the Sooners 367-365.

Southern Methodist is 16th in passing attempts per game, showing they’re not afraid to bomb the ball all over the field.

Against FBS opponents, the Charlotte defense is giving up 374 yards per game through the air (this stat is inflated by Georgia State’s 466 yards, but it all counts). And while SMU averages the 16th most passing attempts per game, they only average 252 yards per game, good for 56th in the country.

As stated earlier, Charlotte played a whale of a game on the defensive end last week, but we’ve also seen them do the opposite this season. If last week turns out to be an anomaly, the Mustangs may be able to throw the ball at will against Charlotte and find the wind in their offensive sails.

Win the line of scrimmage

On the defensive end for Charlotte, they need to get pressure on SMU quarterback Preston Stone. Through four games, Stone has only been sacked four times. The Charlotte pass rush came alive in Gainesville, and they need to ride that momentum across the country and bring it to Dallas on Saturday. The Niners were credited with 10 hits on Florida quarterback Graham Mertz, and on tape, it looked like they were in the backfield all game.

The former power five talent that Charlotte has littered across their defensive line needs to show up to give Charlotte a chance.

Stone has shown a propensity to be loose with the ball, and he’s already thrown four interceptions in as many games. Charlotte is a 21.5-point underdog on the road, and a turnover or two forced by the pass rush would go a long way toward pulling a massive upset.

On the ground, Charlotte needs to establish the tone. Freshman running back Durell Robinson didn’t make the trip to the Swamp as he was “being saved” for the AAC opener, and we’ll see if he gets unleashed against SMU.

The Mustangs sport a top 50 rushing attack in the country, and they’re led by power five transfers LJ Johnson Jr. (Texas A&M) and Jaylan Knighton (Miami (FL)).

It will be a tall task for Biff Poggi and Charlotte to derail the Pony Express that Rhett Lashlee is running at SMU, but a 57.5 over/under means this game should be a fun one regardless. Let’s hope Charlotte can bottle up whatever secret stuff they took to Gainesville and bring it on the road as the new AAC era begins for the green and gold.

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