After dropping consecutive games by double-digit margins, the Charlotte 49ers will finish their non-conference slate with a road trip to Gainesville to take on the No. 25 ranked Florida Gators on Saturday night.
Quarterback Trexler Ivey knows the challenge that awaits the 49ers at the Swamp, but the preferred walk-on doesn’t know how much or when his name will be called.
Without a clear-cut No. 1 quarterback through three games, head coach Biff Poggi says Charlotte will play both Ivey and the season-opening starter Jalon Jones moving forward.
“We like both of them, and our goal is to get to the point where we have enough of a package for what each of them does well so we can play them like 50% of the time.,” Poggi said. “We think we’ll be hard to prepare for, and they are totally different. It doesn’t mean that Trexler can’t run, because he can — a little. It doesn’t mean that Jones can’t pass because he can throw the ball. I was encouraged by how the quarterbacks played.”
Ivey saw the first meaningful reps of his collegiate career last Saturday against Georgia State, joining the huddle on the game’s second possession in favor of Jones.
The redshirt sophomore saw 46 snaps in the loss, doubling Jones’ total of 23. Ivey knew his time would come; he just didn’t know when.
“All week, Biff was just telling me to stay close to him on the sidelines. He said he’d put me in at some point and to just stay ready,” Ivey told The Observer. “I wasn’t really expecting it to be the second drive, but I remember after the first drive, one of the coaches came over to me and said, ‘You’re up.’
“I was excited to finally get the opportunity to play in the game, and not just at the end of it. I felt comfortable out there, and I trusted everyone around me — and I felt that the rest of the team trusted me as well,” Ivey continued. “We did some good things, but we made some mistakes that we’ve got to clean up this week.”
Ivey completed 20 of 28 passes for 257 yards, a touchdown and an interception, posting the highest offensive grade (90.3) in the American Athletic Conference and the 15th best in the nation, according to Pro Football Focus.
Jones, a transfer from Bethune-Cookman, has struggled with accuracy and has accounted for four turnovers through three games. However, Jones is the team’s leading rusher with 32 carries for 196 yards and two touchdowns and kept Charlotte competitive against Georgia State with a 58-yard scamper late in the third quarter.
Left guard Kevin Williams added: “For us up front, it doesn’t matter who’s back there, we have to protect them.”
It was clear that the passing attack was more fluid with Ivey in the lineup, but a key turnover and crucial yardage lost on four sacks blemished his performance.
“My strengths are my accuracy and timing with all of the receivers, which is something we’ve worked on since January. I can make most throws around the field,” Ivey said. “I can always get better at understanding the looks defenses are giving me and understanding our offense. ...I did make a few mistakes and took some sacks that I shouldn’t have.”
Playing at the Swamp
The 49ers are converting just 24.3% of their third-down attempts, ranking dead last in the FBS. And it’s not getting any easier this Saturday against the Gators’ defense, which has allowed just 13 third-down conversions on 38 attempts, ranking 46th in the nation.
Ben Hill Griffin Stadium exceeded its capacity of 88,548 in Florida’s victory over then-No. 11 ranked Tennessee last Saturday night, with 90,751 in attendance. Florida’s raucous crowd played a role in multiple illegal procedure penalties against the Volunteers and will be a huge factor when Charlotte’s offense is on the field.
This is the biggest stage that Ivey has played on. Hoping to start his 22nd birthday on Sunday with the program’s biggest win and first over a ranked team, Ivey will do what he always does when he takes the field — block out the noise.
“I know it’s a huge environment, but in the heat of the game, you just get lost and forget about it. We’re going to have to do our best to block out the noise, lock in and do our jobs,” Ivey said. “We’re definitely going to have to go to some silent count, especially on third downs. It’s going to be really loud.”
Poggi knows that Charlotte will need to play a complete game in all three phases for the first time this season to be competitive with the Gators.
“We’re just looking to put a complete game together. I think we have a chance to be a really good football team if we do. We’re just learning how to play together. This was game three, and we’re going into game four,” Poggi said. “The way we look at the season is the non-conference schedule, then there’s a hard stop after Florida. You’ve got to work all of this stuff out in those first four games because the rest of the way, they all count.”
Poggi added that Charlotte will limit its game plan Saturday night, focusing on what the 49ers do best to avoid outcoaching themselves. For the 49ers, that’s running the ball and winning the time-of-possession battle, ultimately opening up the play-action game.
Florida is allowing just 83.7 yards per game on the ground, which ranks 21st in the FBS. The Gators are also sustaining long drives on offense and playing keep away, ranking fourth in the nation in the time of possession at over 35 minutes a game.
After scoring just three points in the first half of their season-opening loss at Utah, Florida has scored 26 points in the first 30 minutes against both McNeese and Tennessee.
Charlotte’s offense has yet to score 20 points in a game. If the 49ers fall behind early Saturday night, expect to see Ivey on the field often and offensive coordinator Mike Miller dialing up the 49ers’ passing attack.
From walk-on to starter
Charlotte fans know this story all too well, with the program’s leading passer, Chris Reynolds, completing the walk-on journey during his six-year career with the 49ers.
Ivey learned from Reynolds over the past three seasons and now rooms with his younger brother and wideout Jack Reynolds, as well as tight end Colin Weber and receiver Jairus “No-No” Mack — who have all seen increased roles in the offense through three games.
This opportunity is one that Ivey isn’t taking for granted, and Miller’s belief in him has helped him take his game to the next level through the offseason.
“I think he’s a great offensive mind,” Ivey said of Miller. “He knows exactly what’s going on and what play call will fit best for whatever team or defense we’re playing. He’s going to coach us really hard, and he’s going to love us hard too. ...I’m excited to see what we do the rest of the year.”
Despite Poggi’s post-game comments mulling staff changes after just three games, the first-year head coach walked those comments back at Tuesday’s news conference, saying, “I have complete confidence in the staff. I really believe in our young coaches and our players.”
As far as a preferred walk-on potentially leading the 49ers into the Swamp on Saturday, Ivey is working every day to earn his scholarship.
“I haven’t earned one yet. I still haven’t been put on a scholarship, but it’s all good. I’m doing it because I love it. I’m working my tail off every day.”
How to watch 49ers vs. Gators
When: 7 p.m., Saturday
Where: Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, Gainesville, Florida
TV: SEC Network+
Radio: 730 AM The Game