No. 1 Clemson not taking Charlotte lightly

Field Level Media

September 17, 2019 at 11:04 pm.

Top-ranked Clemson is a 41-point favorite Saturday in its first-ever game against Charlotte, but the 49ers are assured of being winners regardless of the outcome.

“It will be great publicity for our program,” Charlotte coach Will Healy told reporters earlier this week. “Playing the No. 1 team in the country at their place at 7:30 on the ACC Network.”

Charlotte also has plenty of financial incentive: the 49ers will return home with a $1 million check in tow.

As is his custom, Clemson Coach Dabo Swinney spent a good portion of his weekly news conference pumping up the 49ers, who are 2-1 and appear to be vastly improved from last season.

“This is a team that could embarrass us if we don’t have a good week of preparation,” Swinney said. “This is a team that won’t be overwhelmed. They’ve been in big stadiums.”

True enough. Charlotte, which is in its seventh season of football, has played a Power 5 opponent each of the last four seasons — Kentucky, Louisville, Kansas State and Tennessee — but the highest any of those teams was ranked at the time of the game was No. 19. So Clemson will provide a unique challenge.

Not only are the Tigers ranked No. 1, they’re heavy favorites to win a fifth consecutive Atlantic Coast Conference title, are the reigning national champions and own the nation’s longest active winning streak at 18 games.

Clemson (3-0) is coming off a 41-6 victory at Syracuse in which the offense rolled up 612 yards. The Tigers’ defense was outstanding as well, limiting the Orange to 187 yards and recording 15 tackles for loss, including eight sacks.

Charlotte, which plays in Conference USA, rolled past Massachusetts last week, 52-17 — the most points Charlotte has ever scored against a Football Bowl Subdivision opponent.

The 49ers have been sparked by running back Benny LeMay, who’s averaging 7.6 yards per carry and reminds Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables of Maurice Jones-Drew. Quarterback Chris Reynolds is a dual threat, having passed for 196 yards per game and seven touchdowns while rushing for 141 yards and two scores.

Defensively, Swinney is impressed by Charlotte end Alex Highsmith, a 6-foot-4, 242-pounder who has 5 1/2 tackles for loss, including four sacks.

“He’s probably the best player we’ve seen to this point,” Swinney said. “He’s on all the great player lists. He’s disruptive.”

Clemson has been buoyed by the early return of junior wide receiver Amari Rodgers, who suffered a torn ACL in practice in March. He had four receptions for 121 yards against Syracuse, including touchdowns of 16 and 87 yards.

“We’ve been explosive,” Swinney said. “But we can be more efficient. I want to see us take that next step and be the team that I think we can be.”