Sept. 10, 2013
Cullowhee, N.C. - Western Carolina head coach Mark Speir took part in the weekly Southern Conference Football Head Coaches' Teleconference on Tuesday morning. He spoke about WCU's opening two games against Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) opponents, Middle Tennessee and Virginia Tech, before turning to this coming Saturday's game against The Citadel in both the home and conference opener. Kickoff is set for 3:30 pm.
Saturday's game will be broadcast on the Catamount Sports Network broadcast with an air time of 2:30 pm across 11 stations and online at CatamountSports.com. Fans can listen to the game locally on WWCU-FM, Power 90dot5 in Cullowhee; 540 AM WRGC in Sylva; 1050 AM WFSC in Franklin; 920 AM WPTL in Canton; 1150 AM WAVO in Charlotte/Rock Hill, S.C.; 1270 AM WCGC in Belmont/Gaston County; on ESPN Radio 1310 & 970 AM in Asheville/Canton; 1600 AM WTZQ in Hendersonville; and on CSN's newest affiliates, Country Legends 550 and 92.9 in Statesville.
"Going up to Virginia Tech was an awesome experience for our players to be able to play in that type of atmosphere against that caliber of a football team; being able to go and to see how we would hold up and how we would play - play with composure and discipline and with a lot of effort. Coming out of the ball game, when you watch the film, there were a lot of good moments in the game even though it was a 45-3 game - there were a lot of teachable moments for our team," Speir began during his time on the call.
"I thought our defense - especially in the first half - played exceptionally well which was good to see. We turned the ball over three times in the first half and to be able to hold a team like that to just 21 points, it was promising as far as us improving as a football team," said Speir. "I think at times we ran the ball pretty effectively against Virginia Tech. Now, that's a team that you can't just line up and pound them all day long. What we struggled with was our passing game. Their front four are big, strong guys that could run and when they brought pressure, we didn't have a lot of time to throw the ball. They made us very one-dimensional and have to run the football because we couldn't hold up with their pressure and just how big and powerful they were up front."
Speir ended his opening thoughts on Virginia Tech by stating, "Obviously, not the outcome that we wanted in a 45-3 ball game, but I was proud of the effort our men played with. There were some things that we can take out of that ball game to help prepare ourselves for the Southern Conference."
Western Carolina's first chance to do just that comes this Saturday as The Citadel Bulldogs invade Cullowhee for WCU's home and league-opener. The Catamounts have dropped two-straight to the Cadets - and seven of the last nine in the head-to-head series. Saturday marks the rubber-match in the series in Cullowhee, entering the weekend deadlocked at 9-9 in games played in the mountains despite a six-game home win streak for WCU from 1993 through 2003.
"It's been a long time since we've played an FCS opponent. Our last three ball games have been Alabama, Middle Tennessee and Virginia Tech dating back to last year, so, obviously we're excited to get away from those type of ball games. We're excited to be at home. I think our crowd is anticipated to be packed this weekend," Speir said. "We've got a very good Citadel football team coming in. (We're excited) to have the opportunity to play our first Southern Conference opponent and first FCS opponent. I know practice was very spirited on Monday night. I thought our guys flew around. I think they're excited to get on to this FCS and SoCon schedule. So, we're excited about this Saturday."
As Speir alluded, Saturday's game against The Citadel is WCU's first game against a team at the FCS level since the Nov. 3, 2012 game against Chattanooga - a game the Catamounts led, 24-22, entering the fourth quarter before the Mocs scored 23 points in the final frame.
Although this weekend's game pits like opponents in two SoCon squads - both searching for their first victory of the season - it is a little different as the Catamounts will not face a traditional offensive system but instead the triple-option attack of The Citadel. The Bulldogs rushed for nearly 400 yards against WCU in last year's meeting - the fewest of the three option teams in the SoCon (Georgia Southern - 614; Wofford, 590) but the fourth most allowed by the Catamount defense on the year.
In last season's meeting, WCU sophomore Troy Mitchell was one of two Catamounts to rush for two scores in a tough, 45-31, loss on the road in Charleston. The two teams were tied at 24 through three quarters but WCU was outscored 21-to-7 in the fourth quarter. Mitchell and classmate Darius Ramsey both eclipsed the 100-yard rushing mark with the QB amassing 117 yards while Ramsey toted the pigskin for one more yard, finishing with 118.
"This is our first test against like opponents. Now, with what The Citadel does offensively, our first test against a like opponent is a completely different offense that we don't practice all spring and preseason. So, added to it, you're not playing a conventional offense. I'm excited to see what these young guys will go out and do this Saturday," said Speir.
Speir indicated that both Mitchell and Ramsey - who has been held out of the team's first two games this year - were healthy and both did practice on Monday. The second-year head coach feels that both Mitchell and redshirt junior Eddie Sullivan have to be ready to play on Saturday and expects that both could get reps in the game.
"This game is huge," concluded Speir. "It's a huge football game - and they all are. But it's our first Southern Conference game. And just like The Citadel, we're 0-2 right now. Their goal in preseason was to win a Southern Conference championship by winning one SoCon game at a time. That, too, is our goal. Those other games, yes, you want to win them. But for us, this is our first opportunity - this is their opportunity to get to 1-1 in the conference, which is huge for them. So for both ball teams, this is a big ball game. We're expecting a huge crowd Saturday. Our players know what this game means and we're excited about playing it this week."
Kickoff Saturday is scheduled for 3:30 pm. For advanced tickets, contact the WCU Athletics Ticket Office at (800) 34-GOWCU or (828) 227-2401, or purchase online at CatamountSports.com.
Here is an excerpt of quotes from Tuesday's teleconference:
Speir on measuring his football team against the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) teams:
"It is (difficult) to a certain degree; but, the old adage what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. We've got some young players that we're excited about. I commend our assistant coaches - they've done a great job of going out and getting us some players that I think have made us better. Coming out of those two games, you always worry about two things as a head coach - injuries and confidence."
"We got banged up pretty bad after the Middle Tennessee game; we had five starters that did not start at Virginia Tech. Our No. 1 and No. 2 running backs didn't even make the trip. We had our third team tailback with two walk-ons behind him. What I'm getting at is you always worry about these games coming out healthy. And then you worry that hey, you go get beat by somebody 80-0, what does that do for your confidence."
"Our offense did some nice things against Middle Tennessee; more of that game was just our offense self destructing a little bit. And then, defensively, you look at 45 points allowed, that's where those 22 extra scholarships come in. There was a point (at MTSU) where it was 28-0 and our guys had done a pretty good job, especially against the run."
"I think with our confidence level, we came out feeling like that if we execute, that if we technique right, if we play hard that we could hold our own at times against Virginia Tech. It's what we do as leaders and coaches to take the positives and take the negatives and show them that how if we'd done this or that that it could have been closer than it was."
"We're just controlling what we can control and which is the Catamounts, and trying to get better every week."
Speir on sophomore quarterback Troy Mitchell:
"Troy will be able to play this week. He could've played last week, but he didn't practice at all. It was just one of those feel kind of situations for us, but Troy is healthy."
"We're always going have both quarterbacks ready. We run our quarterback enough that they're both going to play. They both do things well and they complement each other. You've got to have a guy that is your go-to guy. We're going to go through practice this week and going to have one guy more than the other. But we're probably going to all year have both guys ready to play and anticipate both guys playing."
"Troy didn't practice last week. Yes, he had the better game at Middle Tennessee, but he didn't practice, didn't play last week. We're not just going to hand the (proverbial) keys to the car to him until we go through this week of practice and see who comes out. But we're going to count on both of them."
Speir on The Citadel being the first real test for the WCU defense:
"This is our first test against like opponents. You played a team at Middle Tennessee that is a high-octane offense that averaged 42 points a game last year. Then you're going against a team the caliber of Virginia Tech. You just have to show your guys that when we do what we're supposed to do, and you are doing your one-eleventh of the defense that we can be productive on defense. Now, with what The Citadel does offensively, our first test against a like opponent is a completely different offense that we don't practice all spring and preseason. So, added to it, you're not playing a conventional offense. But, yes it is our first test defensively against a like opponent. And I'm excited to see what these young guys will go out and do this Saturday."
Speir on additional injured players returning this week:
"(Ace Clark) is another guy that could have played, but he had an injury from the Middle Tennessee game but he's back and he will play this week. (Tailback) Darius Ramsey got out and for the first time in two weeks did practice last night. Shaun Warren is healthy, who started against Middle Tennessee. Both Shaun and Ace are back 100-percent and Darius will play this weekend - we'll see how much through this week in practice."
"(With our running backs) a good thing happened for us in that Garry Lewis went in and I thought he ran the ball hard and took care of the football. We gained a lot of confidence in him coming out of the Virginia Tech game."