Oct. 18, 2012
Cullowhee, N.C. - Something's got to give this Saturday afternoon at Rhodes Stadium on the campus of Elon University. One team - either Western Carolina or Elon - will come away with its first Southern Conference victory of the season as the two squads meet in the league's televised game of the week on ESPN3.
Saturday's game will be televised on ESPN3, the network's online streaming outlet. Darren Goldwater has the play-by-play call with former Marshall standout - and Minnesota Vikings running back - Doug Chapman providing the color commentary. Fans can also follow the game on the Catamount Sports Network with coverage beginning with the Pepsi Tailgate Show at 1:00 pm.
The game can be heard 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. Fans can also tune in online at CatamountSports.com.
During Tuesday's SoCon Teleconference, both coaches - WCU's Mark Speir and Elon's Jason Swepson - talked about the opportunity to go out and earn their first conference win. Swepson stated that "we're in the same boat" with being close in games but yet to taste victory against a league team.
Speir was well aware that despite yet scoring a SoCon win, Elon is a team that has competed in every game against Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) foes this season including a three-point loss at Georgia Southern and was just five points back of Appalachian State in the fourth quarter in its most recent game.
The Catamounts have likewise been close in numerous games this season, leading over Samford in the fourth quarter and most recently tied at 24 at The Citadel.
"Both of us are looking for our first SoCon win of the year," said Speir during his time on the weekly SoCon Football Coaches Teleconference. "(Elon's) got a tremendous football team. They've got one of the premier players in the league - a guy that will be an NFL player without a doubt in Aaron Mellette, their wide receiver. He's a big, tall guy that can run; great hands, physical player. And (quarterback) Thomas Wilson does a great job in getting him the ball. Their front five on the offensive line protects against the blitz and gives their quarterback time."
He continued, "They've got a lot of good receivers. They've got, probably as a group, the best receiving corps in the conference. It's a big challenge for us with our defense to try and slow down or minimize them offensively."
Mellette leads the SoCon with 8.3 receptions for 110 yards receiving averages per game - 32 more yards per game than the second place receiver in the league. Mellette also has 10 receiving touchdowns on the year, the favorite target of Thomas who is second in the league in both passing yards (263.5 yards) and total offense (274.8 yards) per game. Additional top targets Speir referenced for Elon are Kierre Brown who is averaging 3.3 catches (8th in the SoCon) and Jeremy Peterson who is seventh in the conference with 42 yards receiving per game.
One week after his offense put up 31 points - the most in a SoCon game since also scoring 31 against Elon last October - Speir feels that the competition - especially at the quarterback position - and depth have helped his squad make improvements on offense. True freshman Troy Mitchell was penciled in as the starter at the beginning of the week, but Speir stated that he and redshirt sophomore QB Eddie Sullivan could see the field Saturday.
"Right now it's Troy Mitchell. But Eddie Sullivan is still in the mix," Speir said on Tuesday. "Those two players have a great relationship. They're friends, they coach each other. I told our team and have talked to Eddie - and Eddie's positive. We're out there battling - we've got a lot more competition on offense than we do defense and that's why our offense has gotten better. I could foresee both of them playing and I could see Eddie beating Troy out. They both know it's an open competition. Eddie's positive and wanting to go earn what he thinks is his job back. We'll let them duke it out this week in practice and that's a good thing."
Countering WCU's offense is a Phoenix defensive unit that is in the middle of the pack statistically. Elon is fifth in the league in total yards allowed (384.7 per game), but has been better against the pass (3rd, 154.5 yards per game) than the run (7th, 230.2 yards per game).
"Defensively, Elon is just solid. They play good, solid defense. They've got 11 players that play well together and make you earn everything and every point you get. It's going to be a tremendous challenge, but one we're looking forward to. Ought to be a good ball game," said Speir.
Western Carolina (1-6, 0-5 SoCon) will again look to halt its conference losing skid which has hit 19 games - one shy of matching the program's longest such drought from the end of the 2005 season through Nov. 1, 2008. The Catamounts are also vying for their first road win since 2010, hoping to end a 12-game slide overall. WCU has dropped six-straight in the head-to-head series with Elon and is seeking its first road win in the series since 2004.
Kickoff is scheduled for 3:00 pm on ESPN3.
Here's an excerpt of quotes from Tuesday's teleconference.
Western Carolina head football coach, Mark Speir:
On last week's game at The Citadel:
"It was a heck of a ball game down there against The Citadel. Always a tough place to play, well-coached football team. We had our opportunities. There at the end of the third quarter, we've got a tie ball game, but we just weren't able to close the deal in the fourth and The Citadel made the plays they needed to make and we didn't."
On Elon's tough stretch in first three SoCon games:
"It doesn't matter if it's early or late in this conference, it's tough each week that you tee it up. But they've played some good teams. They were open last week and that's given them some opportunities to get healthy and get freshened up. But playing App, they did a really nice job especially on offense. They've played some tough teams; played Georgia Southern to a field goal. They've battled against the teams in this league. We know they're a good football team and we know we're going to have to play our best game on both sides of the ball to have an opportunity to get a win."
On reigning SoCon Defensive Player of the Week, Rock Williams:
"They told me after the game (at The Citadel) that (Rock) had 24 tackles and I thought it was just a statistician fluffing - not even ours, it was The Citadel's guy. But you watch the film and Rock had an outstanding game. He plays hard. He had a good ball game. If we had 10 others playing with the passion and with the discipline that Rock plays with, we would be in a lot better shape. But, I was awful proud of Rock."
Elon head football coach, Jason Swepson:
On coming off the bye week:>br? "It was perfect timing for us to have the bye week. After playing the three top teams in conference, we got pretty banged up."
On playing Saturday's game vs. Western Carolina:
"You've got two teams that are looking for their first conference win. I believe it's going to be a four-quarter game. Coach (Mark) Speir has that team scoring a lot of points. They're just trying to find a way to win just like us. They're playing good football just looking for a way to win a game at the end - we're both in the same boat."
On Western Carolina:
"I've got the utmost respect for their offense. They've played two quarterbacks in the past, but against The Citadel, it was Troy Mitchell the whole day. He had a great game running the football and did complete some passes so it looks like they've found a groove with him. The wide receivers are making plays; they spread the ball out. We're going to have to do a good job in covering the pass game. But Troy does a good job when the guys are not open."
"On defense, we feel like one of the best defensive linemen in the conference is No. 91 Brian Johnson. He had a great game against us a year ago and he's very active, has tremendous speed and has a knack for finding the quarterback. He's got some tackles for losses. And their linebacker, Rock Williams, again, started 11 games last year, playing good football this year. He's second in the conference in tackles, so, we've got our work cut out for us. This is going to be a good football game."