By Todd Vinyard, Special to CatamountSports.com
Cullowhee, N.C. - Western Carolina's football team has played its way into the Southern Conference title race and a playoff opportunity this year. The Catamount squad knows focusing on the next opponent instead of mathematical formulas is what it will take to keep those goals a possibility.
"If we are trying to control our destiny, we have to go find a way to go beat The Citadel," WCU head coach Mark Speir said after Saturday's 28-6 loss to Furman in heavy rains. "Whoever we have at any position, we have to respond. We are going on the road against a good football team. We have to work and prepare to try to beat The Citadel."
Next the No. 18/20 WCU (6-3, 4-2 SoCon) travel to Charleston, S.C. to face The Citadel Bulldogs (5-3, 3-3 SoCon) this coming Saturday, Nov. 4th. Kickoff is at 2 p.m.
WCU will look for answers about the health of their dual-threat leader Tyrie Adams, who left the Furman game with a lower-body injury in the second quarter and didn't return. Adams entered the game leading the SoCon in rushing at 71.9 yards per game along with having tossed a touchdown in each game this year.
"Tyrie is a special player for us," Speir said. "I don't know the extent of (the injury), but he could not play (in the rest of the game against Furman). It's not an ACL or MCL, but we don't know how bad it is. We've talked about `next man up' all year. Now Tyrie is a little different. It is tough when you lose your starting quarterback. But I thought Ray Smith came in and did a good job. He did everything we asked him to do."
Smith completed 7-of-15 passes for 71 yards along with 33 rushing yards and an interception.
"Ray (Smith) is very capable," said senior wide receiver Terryon Robinson. "We need to help him get some confidence with the first string offense and be ready no matter who we have in the backfield."
WCU got some backfield help against Furman with the return of two-time All-American tailback Detrez Newsome, who rushed for 110 yards after being out of the lineup since early October to go along with three catches for 20 yards and 130 total yards of offense.
Along with focusing on their backfield WCU, which is now one game behind SoCon league leaders Wofford and Furman, knows they will have to ready for The Citadel backfield and the option attack it runs. It is similar to the system Furman used for 363 yards rushing. Three of the four Paladin scores were from 44 yards or longer.
"Defensively, you've got to play assignment football against the option," Speir said. "All these option teams, they go in at halftime, and they find what they're looking for to be successful. Other than at the very end when it got sloppy, it was four big plays (against Furman). That's what option football is. Defensively, we've just got to rebound."
The Catamounts, who are now tied for third place in the SoCon standings with Samford after winning two games total a year ago, will look to rebound with plenty to play for in the final two SoCon games of the season starting this week at The Citadel.
"You have to look at the things you messed up and the things you did well and have a short memory," WCU senior cornerback Keion Crossen said. "You have to be ready to the play the next week and get after it. We have to get ready to play The Citadel."