Charlotte, ECU first meeting a battle of 1-win teams

Charlotte’s Jalon Jones has struggled in the passing game, leading coach Biff Poggi to try other options at quarterback in his first season leading the 49ers. (Daniel Kucin Jr. / AP Photo)

The American Athletic Conference’s two North Carolina teams will face each other for the first time this weekend when East Carolina hosts Charlotte in Greenville.

ECU is coming off a 31-10 home loss to SMU, while Charlotte suffered a 14-0 shutout loss to Navy at Jerry Richardson Stadium. Both teams will be looking for their first win against an FBS opponent this season after starting 1-5 with 0-2 records in the AAC.

Oddsmakers currently have the Pirates as a 7.5-point home favorite over the 49ers when the two teams meet at 2 p.m. Saturday at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.

The two teams have underperformed for similar reasons — competent defenses undercut by struggling offenses.

On the defensive side of the ball, the 49ers rank 76th, allowing 382 yards, while the Pirates are 31st at 332 yards allowed per game.

Offense is another story.

Charlotte is averaging 304 yards of offense a game, 123rd in the country, while ECU’s 125th-ranked offense totals 302 yards per game — and both teams have shuffled quarterbacks through the first six games of the season.

Dual-threat quarterbacks Jalon Jones of Charlotte and Mason Garcia of ECU have had success running the ball but have struggled with passing consistency.

Meanwhile, traditional passers Trexler Ivey of the Niners and the Pirates’ Alex Flinn haven’t performed well in the passing game either, combining for 10 interceptions and just three touchdowns.

After Charlotte’s shutout loss to the Midshipmen, first-year coach Biff Poggi said he would consider trying out sophomore Oklahoma transfer Micah Bowens behind center, but he also took the blame for the team’s overall struggles.

“I’m the guy that put this thing together, and we’re 1-5,” he said. “There is only one person to point at, and that’s me.”

“We’re at a seminal moment in the season, and we’re going to find out who and what we are. … We’re going to find out a lot about our character in the next six weeks because when you’re losing football games, it’s really hard. This is part of our pedagogy and why we are here and what we’re teaching. You will know in the next six weeks whether I have what it takes to fix it or not.”

Following ECU’s home loss to the Mustangs, fifth-year coach Mike Houston pointed to his team’s inability to close out games in the fourth quarter as a reason for its 1-5 start.

“Every game except Michigan, right? It’s pretty frustrating,” Houston said of his team being within one score entering the final quarter in four of its five losses. “That’s the difference between winning and losing, finishing ball games, playing when the pressure is on.

“We’ve been able to do that a lot in the past, but we haven’t been able to do that yet this year. We have to find a way to do that. We’ve got a great opportunity next Saturday to have another game at home, and we’ll be focused on getting ready for our next opponent this weekend.”

With the stakes high for both coaches, Saturday’s game has the potential to start up a conference rivalry between two schools that are less than four hours apart.

There is a bit of added history as well.

In 2018, Charlotte athletic director Mike Hill reportedly offered Houston a contract to leave his job at James Madison to replace Brad Lambert and become the 49ers’ coach.

Two days later, the Niners officially withdrew their offer to Houston because he was considering other offers, including one from East Carolina that he eventually accepted. Charlotte went on to hire Will Healy, who went 7-6 and reached a bowl game in 2019 but was fired last fall after a 1-7 start to the season.

Over in Greenville, Houston led the Pirates to their first bowl win since 2013 last season but has compiled a 23-29 overall record, and some fans are beginning to question if he’s the man for the job.

In a season filled with losses, one side will enter the season’s stretch run with some momentum after a win in a burgeoning rivalry.