Middle Tennessee provided an unfriendly welcome to Charlotte in the 49ers’ first Conference USA game. The Blue Raiders (2-1) struck quick and often, scoring 42 first-quarter points on their way to a 73-14 victory.
Charlotte (2-1) fell victim to the fast-strike offense it has used to success against opponents. Four of the Blue Raiders first-quarter scores were of the one or two-play variety and included several big plays.
“We ran into a buzzsaw tonight,” said 49ers head coach Brad Lambert. “We‘re just turning the ball over too much. That’s why the score is what it is. I thought Kalif (Phillips) was running hard. I thought the offensive line was blocking decent up front. We’re just making too many silly mistakes and if you don’t take care of the ball you’re going to run into trouble.”
Brent Stockstill hit Terry Pettis for a 76-yard TD pass. Jordan Parker had a TD run of 62 yards. Stockstill connected again with Pettis for a 75-yarder and then hit Ed Batties for a 35-yarder to humble the 49ers defense. The Blue Raiders set opponent records for points scored, margin of victory and total yards (690).
Charlotte scored a first quarter TD on an attempted onside kick that Uriah LeMay returned 48 yards for a TD and Kalif Phillips cashed in on a one-yard run for the 49ers’ second-quarter score to make it 49-14 at the half.
LeMay’s kickoff return was the third in 49ers history for a touchdown.
The Phillips’ TD drive was started when Devon Johnson forced a fumble on a sack for a 14-yard loss. Matt Johnson hit Trent Bostick for a 31-yard gain and Phillips added a 22–yard run to get the 49ers inside the five.
At the half, Middle Tennessee enjoyed a 459-153 advantage in total offense and they had forced four Charlotte turnovers. Charlotte forced two turnovers, including Johnson’s big sack/forced fumble.
“I think we got punched in the mouth right away and we didn’t really collect ourselves as we wish we would have,” said linebacker Nick Cook, who had a team-best 13 tackles. “They were a very good football team. They came out and executed what they wanted to. There’s a lot of little things that we messed up, personally. We’re not going to let this define us as a defense or a unit.”
Charlotte continued to deploy a two-quarterback system. Johnson finished 5-of-12 for 60 yards with two picks. Barden was 5-of-16 for 27 yards and one INT.
The Blue Raiders scored 17 third quarter points, including a pick-six of a Johnson pass to push over 60 points, establishing a new record for points allowed by the 49ers. Lee McNeill came in as QB in the fourth quarter and was 3-of-5 for 15 yards. He threw one INT, which matched the 49ers’ single-game record with 7 turnovers.
“This is definitely the best team we’ve played so far,” Cook added. “Speed-wise and athleticism-wise, it’s definitely the best team we’ve played this year. I saw a better effort from the start of the second quarter. We got after it a little bit. We tried to play like it was zero-zero. We have to have a quick memory and come back this week, work hard, learn from this film and get ready for our home opener in conference.”
Phillips pounded his way to a team-high 72 yards on 15 carries, including a 22-yarder that helped set up his second-quarter score. Backfield mate Andrew Buie was bottled up for 28 yards on 8 carries.
Cook led the 49ers with a career-best 13 tackles, the most by a 49er this year. He had 12 solo tackles. Red-shirt junior defensive lineman Larry Ogunjobi had six tackles to give him 104 in his career – the third player in 49ers history to reach the century mark.
Charlotte did have 8.0 tackles for loss, led by Cook’s 2.0. Charlotte’s defense forced a pair of turnovers on forced fumbles by Devon Johnson and Desmond Floyd.
Middle Tennessee ended up with 695 yards of total offense, including 316 on the ground and 379 through the air. Charlotte finished with 219 total yards. Stockstill threw for 369 yards and five TDs with Pettis pulling in 167 receiving yards. Parker added 142 rushing yards and three touchdowns. Batties had three receiving TDs. The Blue Raiders had a pair of 100-yard rushers and a pair of 100-yard receivers.
The loss snaps the 49ers’ program-best four-game win streak (first two games of 2015; last two of 2014). This is the 49ers first loss to an FBS institution.
The 49ers will host Florida Atlantic Saturday at 7 p.m. at Jerry Richardson Stadium in the 49ers’ first-ever Conference USA home game and the program’s first home night game.