Sept. 25, 2012
Related Link: Speir's Audio on SoCon Teleconference
Related Link: WCU Game Notes at Furman
Cullowhee, N.C. - Western Carolina first-year head football coach Mark Speir spent time with members of the media on Tuesday morning's Southern Conference Head Coaches' Teleconference. He reflected on last week's tough home loss in SoCon play to Samford and looked ahead to this weekend's conference road game at Furman.
"It was a great ball game up here in Cullowhee - one we hate we lost with the 11-point lead going into the fourth quarter. But Samford did a great job of making plays in the fourth quarter and we didn't. It became a game of field position," said Speir while reflecting on last Saturday's four-point loss in Cullowhee. "We had a great atmosphere, a great crowd. I just hated it for our players and our fans that we didn't get it done last Saturday. But we got beat by a good football team; Samford is a class act. It was just a good college football game. But we feel like we let one get away."
The Catamounts have to quickly turn the page this Saturday for the "Battle for Purple Supremacy in the Southern Conference" as the purple & gold visit the purple & white of Furman at Paladin Stadium. WCU has dropped six-straight games in the overall head-to-head series, and has not been victorious in Greenville since 1994 - a streak of eight-straight losses.
"We got another tough game coming up this weekend down in Greenville against a Furman Paladin football team. You know what you're going to get when you go play Furman. They've got a lot of good football players so we're anticipating another big ball game," said Speir while breaking down the Paladins.
Although the game plan is a lot longer of a ledger, Speir highlighted two key areas for his squad entering the game: discipline for the defense and finishing for the offense.
"(Furman's) a sound team that is going to try to establish the run game and then hurt you with the play action off of those runs they do so well. Our defense has to be disciplined," explained Speir. "On offense, we've got to finish drives. We've moved the ball at times but have trouble other times in finishing drives with points. Furman's not going to give you a lot of big plays, so we've got to stay consistent."
Part of Tuesday's conversation hinged around the use of WCU's tandem of quarterbacks - redshirt sophomore Eddie Sullivan who has started the last three games and true freshman Troy Mitchell, who took the first snap of the season opening win over Mars Hill. The two remain matched atop this week's two-deep with the pivotal word "or" between the two names when referencing who would start in Greenville.
"Eddie Sullivan is our starter, but Troy Mitchell, we feel like is going to be a really good football player for us and we're trying to get him more-and-more involved in our offense. And to be honest with you, those two are competing every week. The great thing is that Eddie can't sit there and think that he's got a job because as soon as his performance starts to suffer, he's got a guy nipping at his heels and that's just created a lot of good competition."
Speir reiterated that there is no quarterback controversy in Cullowhee - but instead a quarterback competition. In referencing the weekly competition between the two signal callers, Speir stated, "it's making both of them better and it's making our team better."
"We anticipate Troy playing more and more," said Speir. "In this offense, because we do run our quarterbacks, they get hurt and take a beating and you've got to have two quality quarterbacks. We feel great about Troy and those two are competing this week to see who's going to get to go lead us against the Furman Paladins."
Western Carolina's offense has recorded 14 scoring drives this season with nine going for 10-plays or more. The Catamount offense is averaging 9.4 plays per scoring drive to date while consuming just 3:21 in doing so showing the up-tempo style that the spread formation allots.
But perhaps the bigger story over the past couple of weeks has been the improved play on the defensive side of the ball. WCU's defensive unit has put the team on the scoreboard three times this season - all on fumble recoveries - with the past two weeks representing the first Catamount points.
In week one, Trevor Taylor helped break open the Mars Hill victory by scooping and scoring on a fumble in the Lions' backfield to start the second half. Two weeks ago at Wofford, senior Eric Banford cashed in a fumble caused by freshman John McBeth for six points. And then last Saturday, on the first play from scrimmage, the freshman duo of Sertonuse Harris and Caleb Hawkins combined to sack Samford quarterback Andy Summerlin with the latter falling on the loose football for a touchdown.
Harris' sack was one of four by WCU a week ago, the most by a Catamount defense since a road win at Gardner-Webb in September of 2010.
Again, Western Carolina looks to snap several slides as it travels into the Upstate of South Carolina on Saturday afternoon. The Catamounts look to halt a SoCon losing skid which has hit 16 games, while also snapping a three-game seasonal slide and a road winless drought that stands at 10-straight losses.
Saturday's game will be broadcast by the Catamount Sports Network with air time of 2:30 pm across nine 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; on ESPN Radio 1310 and 970 AM in Asheville/Canton; 1600 AM WTZQ in Hendersonville; 1150 AM WAVO in Charlotte/Rock Hill, S.C.; and 1270 AM WCGC in Belmont/Gaston County.
Kickoff is scheduled for 1:30 pm.
Here is an excerpt of quotes from Tuesday's teleconference:
Western Carolina head coach, Mark Speir:
On whether having a common opponent, Samford, helps in preparations:
"You just kind of get a gauge of the athletes that are on the field, that's the biggest thing. I think Furman, they've always been a team that progresses. They've got their base set of plays, but they do a great job of studying film and figuring out where they feel like you've got weaknesses on both sides of the ball. So you're going to see their base plays and base defenses, but you're going to get new wrinkles every week. We obviously look at the Samford film because that gives you a gauge of the athleticism and you've got a feel for the team that Furman's playing. But our staff's have played against each other - not being new here at Western Carolina - but we've got a feel for each other I'm sure and you just try and anticipate their next move. Bottom line, we've got to be sound and anticipate going up against a real quality football team this weekend."
On how the young team will rebound from the tough loss to Samford:
"We came out and had a great practice (Monday) night. We showed them coming out of the Samford game how this game is a game of inches and how great the competition is in this league. And if you're off a little, you're off a lot. It's kind of like hand grenades - a little bit will get you killed, and it did Saturday. I think this team is eager. It hurt them, it was a hurt locker room. These guys work so hard and I don't think their spirits are down."
"(Tuesday) is a big work day, obviously, they've got to come to work. You don't beat Furman on Saturday. If we're going to beat Furman, we've got to do it today and tomorrow and Thursday and Friday; that's the only shot we've got. And that's what we're trying to preach to this young football team. So, they've got to walk the walk and not talk the talk, and that's where we're getting a little better each week at how we practice, how we prepare for these SoCon battles."
Furman head coach, Bruce Fowler:
On the Western Carolina Catamounts:
"Coach (Mark) Speir and the staff up there, the new bunch - certainly not to the Southern Conference - but they're doing a phenomenal job. Their team is playing with a lot of enthusiasm, they're playing extremely hard. What they're doing offensively and defensively is very multiple and they're doing a great job with it. It's going to present our team with a lot of challenges."
On whether having a common opponent, Samford, helps in preparations:
"You certainly can look at them and do some comparisons. We had two similar types of games (with Samford). But it gives you a little bit of an idea looking at personnel-wise. Familiarity of having a common opponent I think is helpful; at least you know the personnel from (Samford)."