Oct. 9, 2012
Related Link: Speir's Audio on the SoCon Teleconference
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 Homecoming loss to eighth-ranked Georgia Southern, and quickly turned his attention ahead to this week's road game - the first of back-to-back games away from home for WCU - against The Citadel Bulldogs.
"Obviously, Georgia Southern is an outstanding football team," Speir opened during his time on the teleconference. "Coach (Jeff) Monken and (his team) are just blue-collar guys that are physical and fast - and that's a deadly combination when you've got a physical football team like they do and have the speed that they have on the field. That defense doesn't get enough credit because you hear all the time about the double-slot option attack, which is really good. But, that defense is awful stingy and doesn't give up a lot."
"We tried to hang with them for a while and had some bright spots, some positive spots. Offensively, we had a couple of nice drives and defensively did some nice things. We just couldn't sustain it for an entire ball game. And they held the ball, kept it away from our offense," Speir added.
Western Carolina (1-5, 0-4 SoCon) returns to the site of its last victory in conference play as it ventures into Johnson Hagood Stadium to face a banged-up Bulldog football team at The Citadel (3-3, 2-2 SoCon). WCU last tasted a win in SoCon play with its 24-13 road win in Charleston back on Oct. 2, 2010. After last Saturday's home defeat to No. 8 GSU, the Catamounts have lost 18-straight in league play including nine consecutive on the road.
The Bulldogs, who have dropped three-straight after opening the season at 3-0, are without two of their leading tacklers in Carl Robinson (torn ACL) and Rah Muhammad (broken ankle) on defense while back-up "b-back" Terrell Dallas suffered a broken foot prior to the Samford game. The Citadel will celebrate its Parents' Weekend on Saturday afternoon with numerous seniors receiving their coveted class rings on Friday evening as a part of the festivities.
"It's going to be a tough environment to play and I know they're sitting there at 3-3 and this is their key game to get them back on track for them having a great season. So, we know what we're jumping into the ring with, we've just got to go down, worry about ourselves and execute techniques on both side so the football," Speir said.
Conversely, Western Carolina hopes to have its full roster back in order for this weekend. Freshman running back Darius Ramsey and senior wide receiver Jacoby Mitchell should be back in the lineup with senior tailback Michael Johnson's status listed as a game-time decision on offense. Defensively, linebacker Rock Williams was cleared to return back to practice this week, missing both the Wofford and Georgia Southern games - both triple-option teams - with an ankle injury. Also, freshman defensive end Caleb Hawkins returned to the practice field on Tuesday afternoon.
Speir hopes that having played two triple-option football teams in Wofford and Georgia Southern already - and being just one week removed from the latter - will help his football team, especially on the defensive side.
"The good thing is our players hopefully can learn from the mistakes our defensive guys from seeing the same type of offense," said Speir. "Our offense has got to become more consistent because The Citadel defensively, they do a really nice job. They are a sound team and they make you drive - they don't give up a lot of big plays. They make you drive and count on you making a mistake. And we've had problems with that, the consistency part."
Much like the week before when talking about the strength of Georgia Southern's defense being overshadowed by the strength - and uniqueness - of its offense, Speir referenced The Citadel's defense as being an unsung hero for its early season success.
"The Citadel's defense, they play confident; they play technique. They're where their supposed to be, they play really hard. And they're going to make you earn everything you get and they don't give up big plays. That's a credit to Coach (Kevin) Higgins and his staff down there," said Speir.
WCU trails in the all-time series with the Bulldogs, 15-20-1, including just a 5-11 mark all-time at Johnson Hagood Stadium - also the site of the Catamounts' 1983 National Championship game appearance. The Citadel has won six of the last eight meetings in the series dating back to 2004 with the Catamounts winning back-to-back meetings in 2009 and '10.
Kickoff on Saturday is scheduled for 2:00 pm. Catamount Sports Network coverage of the game begins at 1 pm across nine stations and online at CatamountSports.com.
Here's an excerpt of quotes from Tuesday's teleconference:
Western Carolina head football coach, Mark Speir:
On playing at The Citadel in Charleston:
"It's going to be a tremendous challenge to go down to Charleston and play down there against a talented football team that has had some really nice wins this year. And have been very authoritative in their wins. It's a tough challenge, but like every week here at Western in building this program, we're as much worried about ourselves as we are about The Citadel. Just trying to get better every day."
On areas he's looking for improvement defensively against the triple option:
"Number one, we've just got to be sound in our technique. You start sniffing on that dive or running out to play the quarterback, then there goes the dive. Just as much as anything, we're trying to keep simple game plans. And a lot of times, techniques have gotten us in trouble. And pure just tackling. Playing these types of teams, you've got to be able to get off of cut blocks and defeat a blocker first, hold your leverage - and as much as anything, it's teaching techniques and getting your scout team to simulate that offense is so much timing and tracks. That's the one nice thing about following a Georgia Southern with The Citadel is that now our offense scout team guys, we're not coaching them up as much as we are our defense. We've got to execute and play, and play confidently."
"In this league, with Wofford, Georgia Southern and The Citadel, you've got to be able to play sound, fundamental option defense. And offensively, our offense knows that when you play these option teams, their defense is going to be hard-nosed and will be good at stopping the run because they see it every day and defend it all spring and preseason. These really good option attacks, their defenses don't get the credit that they deserve for putting these teams where they are."
On need of WCU needing a win to solidify changing cultures:
"I give our players all of the credit. We sat in that locker room after the Georgia Southern game and in our team meeting Monday night, I told them we're still here for this football team - for 2012 to be a good football team. We've got five more opportunities to become a good football team and that our staff, we're not looking to next year. We're looking to this week and the next four weeks. We're looking for players that have the same vision and same desire. They came out (Monday) night and we had an hour practice in helmets, and to be honest with you, it was a spirited practice. Our players haven't cashed in and so, that's the positive things. We've got to take an opportunity to play another really good football team on the road this week and our players, they're seeing some of the good things that we're doing. We're just not doing it consistently enough. Our players know we can do it, it's just the focus of doing it consistently."
The Citadel head football coach, Kevin Higgins:
Thoughts on playing Western Carolina:
"First of all, Mark (Speir) has taken over the program this year and you can tell there's a difference there. There's a lot of enthusiasm, there's a lot of emotion. Just watch the sidelines when they make plays. It just looks like a completely different environment. This is a team that I know is hungry and they're going to be playing hard and it should be a great football game."
"It's a new program; there's a lot of newness. They're looking at what they do best and certainly with the skill level that they have at the wide receivers and the running backs and the ability of both of those quarterbacks, it's just a matter of them finding their niche and taking advantage of it."
On challenges presented by Western Carolina's offense:
"They've got the transfer in, Eddie Sullivan, who played some at Marshall. Has a really strong arm; if he can pull it down, he'll do that as well. Troy Mitchell, their freshman quarterback from Texas, I think is going to be an excellent player. He has very good feet and can throw the football. And whenever we've played against a Western Carolina team, there has always been some great skill at the receiver positions and they're no different this year with (Jacoby) Mitchell and (Deja) Alexander."
On challenges presented by WCU using its two quarterbacks in different ways each game:
"First of all, both Eddie Sullivan and Troy Mitchell are both very athletic. Both of them, I think, have very strong arms and they've got a unique little system there - they do a lot of things, makes it challenging to prepare for. There's a lot of option mixed into what they're doing and that makes its dangerous in terms of their ability to exploit weaknesses that you might have."
On challenges presented by Western Carolina's defense:
"From the defensive standpoint, I know Rock Williams has been beat up a little bit, but we've got a lot of respect for him. He's been one of the top linebackers in the league. Ace Clark and (Elijer) Martinez, all have experience as well."