Oct. 2, 2012
Cullowhee, N.C. - Western Carolina first-year head coach Mark Speir spent time Tuesday morning with members of the media on the Southern Conference's Head Coaches' Teleconference. He looked back at the road loss at Furman, and quickly turned his attention ahead to this week's game against the eighth-ranked Georgia Southern Eagles.
"It was probably our worst outing of the year as a team," Speir opened, reflecting on last Saturday's 45-24 road loss at Furman. "I don't know what it was, that's just part of coaching, I guess, trying to figure it out. We were just very lethargic, and Furman did a nice job, had a good game plan and we just didn't execute very well on offense and didn't fly around like we had been on defense."
Speir then tried to close the book on the Furman game and turn all attention to this week's game against Georgia Southern. WCU and GSU meet for the 23rd time on the football gridiron this Saturday with kickoff at E.J. Whitmire Stadium / Bob Waters Field slated for 3:30 pm.
Saturday is WCU's annual Homecoming with a king and queen to be crowned during halftime. WCU athletics is also holding it's first-ever "Catamount Legacy All Sports Reunion" where it is inviting back all former student-athletes, managers and athletic trainers for a special weekend of reunion events.
"We all know that Georgia Southern is a tremendous football team," said Speir of the Eagles. "They're flying around and having a lot of enthusiasm. They've got a lot of skill on their defense; they can run, they're big up front with Brent Russell and that front four and they play extremely hard. And then, as always, trying to defend the double slot option attack that they have and they run so well. The speed that they have on the field, you can't be hesitant like we were last week."
The Eagles come to Cullowhee winners of 17-straight in the head-to-head series with the Catamounts, and are boasting a national ranking of eighth after last week's 35-16 home win over No. 25 Samford. Georgia Southern has one loss on its ledger this year - a 23-21 road loss at The Citadel back on Sept. 8 in its lone road game of the year - but has put together back-to-back wins in league play.
Coming off consecutive years as a national semifinalist in the playoffs, Georgia Southern is renowned for its double-slot, triple option attack, which Speir referenced during the teleconference.
"Number one, which concerned me coming off of the Furman game, is you have got to play - whether you've got as much talent on the field or speed on the field as Georgia Southern - you have to play with a lot of confidence and just being authoritative. You've got to get to the point of attack whether you're on a dive, on the quarterback, running the alley or out on pitch, defensively you cannot have any hesitation," Speir began when asked about what he's seen over the years in trying to slow the option offense. "You don't have to be as fast as Georgia Southern to go play well against them - but mentally, you have to be as fast as Georgia Southern, and that's what we're preaching to our defensive players."
He added, "And offensively, our guys have got to just execute - the consistency is what we're lacking on that side of the ball."
As potent as the Eagle offense can be, it has had its trouble with ball security so far during the 2012 campaign, putting the ball on the turf 17 times with eight being gobbled up by the opposition. WCU hopes its defense can continue to productively ball hawk, already having lit the scoreboard three times on fumble recoveries including twice in its last three games.
WCU and its defensive unit should have both senior linebacker Rock Williams and redshirt sophomore defensive back Ace Clark in the lineup this Saturday after both were sidelined against the last option football team the Catamounts faced at Wofford.
Conversely, Georgia Southern boasts the top total defense in the SoCon entering this week's full slate of games. The Eagles are limiting foes to just an average of 286 combined yards of offense including just 96.5 yards on the ground - second in the league. Teams have only managed to average 15.5 points per game on GSU, also second in the SoCon.
WCU ranks fifth in the league in passing offense at 209.4 yards through the air, with a balanced run attack out of the spread formation averaging 182.2 rushing yards per contest.
With a theme of "Tradition Long... Catamount Strong," WCU's Homecoming festivities stretch throughout the week, culminating with the football game on Saturday. As has become customary during the week of Homecoming, a group of WCU students marched from the Alumni Tower in the center of campus to the football stadium near the conclusion of Tuesday's practice session. With the team gathered around midfield, the students and team alike joined in singing the WCU Fight Song, all as a part of Spirit Week leading up to Saturday afternoon's game.
The annual Homecoming Parade is scheduled for Friday, Oct. 5, through downtown Sylva beginning at 6:15 pm on Main Street. After the parade, alumni, students, faculty, staff and friends are invited to enjoy music, dance and food on WCU's Central Plaza, adjacent to the Alumni Tower, during Spirit Night which begins at 8:00 pm.
Here's an excerpt of quotes from Tuesday's teleconference:
Western Carolina head football coach, Mark Speir:
On how the team will bounce back from the road loss at Furman:
"I think our guys are going to respond this week and we just got to get ready to go play a talented football team."
On the disappointment of the way the team performed in the road loss at Furman: "Sometimes when you're building a program, you take steps forward and then you take three back. I believe we didn't get better this past week, but we're looking ahead to Georgia Southern."
"It wasn't an effort deal; our guys weren't out there just loafing - that wasn't the issue. I just knew it on Saturday during the ball game that we were very hesitant. On defense, I know we had some guys that were free to go make plays and it was if they were just hesitant. It seemed like they were more afraid to make a mistake then to fly around and go make a play. And that's the first time that had happened all year, even in some of our other losses. Offensively, we just never got in sync or a rhythm. We had more miss assignments and busts that we'd had in any of our previous games. The whole kicker to it is that I thought we had one of our very best total weeks - maybe not every day our best practice of the year, but as a whole for the week, I thought it was a good week of preparation."
"We had a great team meeting Monday and a spirited practice that night. Our big work day is today (Tuesday) we'll see how we come out of it today."
On some of the keys to playing Georgia Southern and stopping the option attack:
"To go play good against Georgia Southern, you may not match their speed on the field, but you've got to match, number one, their intensity, and you've got to match the confidence level - knowing what to do, getting there and doing it. And the teams that do that can go play against Georgia Southern. I don't know that The Citadel had more speed than the Georgia Southern team, but I thought they did a really nice job of being authoritative and very confident with where they were on defense."
"We've just got to have a great week of practice; go play hard and with a lot of authority and with a lot of confidence."
Georgia Southern head football coach, Jeff Monken:
On traveling to play Western Carolina:
"Western Carolina is as good as they have been in years. Mark's doing just a wonderful job, watching those guys in the way he's got them playing. Just the attention to detail, I'm so impressed - and didn't expect anything less. They're going to present huge challenges for us."