Cullowhee, N.C. - Western Carolina associate head coach Mark Rhea spent time with members of the media on Tuesday morning on the weekly Southern Conference Football Coaches' Teleconference. Rhea, who stood in for WCU fourth-year head coach Mark Speir who was attending to a personal family matter, looked back at the Catamount's 41-17 road loss at SEC-foe, Texas A&M, before turning his attention to this week's regular season finale at VMI.
"Last week was a good week for our program and for our kids to get an opportunity to go watch them against one of the top teams in the country and one of the best environments and atmospheres in college football," Rhea opened during his time on the teleconference. "It was just outstanding to see our kids go out there and compete. It's fun to watch how hard the kids played last Saturday."
Sophomore tailback Detrez Newsome posted his fifth, 100 rushing yard performance of the season -- and second against a team from the Southeastern Conference (SEC) -- with 111 yards on the ground against the Aggies. The Raeford, N.C., product added a career-high tying seven catches including a 17-yard score that put WCU on the board ahead of the special teams heroics of A.J. McKoy and Avery Worsham that ultimately tied the game at 14 in the second quarter.
Focus on the teleconference then shifted to this week's Catamount game at VMI. Western Carolina (6-4, 4-2 SoCon) makes its first trip to Lexington, Va., and Foster Field since 2002 to face the Keydets (2-8, 1-5 SoCon), who come into the game off of their bye week. WCU has won 12-straight games against VMI in the head-to-head series including five-in-a-row in Lexington.
"Speaking defensively as a defensive coach, we've got our hands full with VMI," said Rhea. "They've got an outstanding quarterback in Al Cobb. Statistically speaking, he's leading the conference in total offense (294.0), passing per game (278.3) -- he's just lighting the field up with his arm. He can spin the ball, get it to his receivers -- and he's got some outstanding receivers to get it to."
One of those top receivers Rhea alluded to is junior Aaron Sanders who leads the SoCon in receptions per game (7.9) and receiving yards per game (85.7 yds/gm). He is joined inside the league's top 10 by classmate Dane Forlines with 4.4 catches per outing (5th) and an average of 55 receiving yards per game (6th). Collectively, VMI ranks second in the SoCon in passing offense with 274.5 yards per game, just ahead of WCU's air attack which averages 228.1 yards per outing.
Rhea, who coaches WCU's defensive ends, also gave a synopsis of the Keydets' defense, looking at the match-up from a Catamount offensive perspective.
"Statistically, their two linebackers (Ryan Francis and Allan Cratensberg) as a tandem are the best in the conference. They're up in the top 10 in tackles and just leading in categories that you want your linebackers to lead," said. Rhea.
Francis and Cratsenberg are both tied for third in the SoCon with an average of 10 tackles per game, just behind WCU's Daniel Riddle in second at 11.4 and slightly ahead of WCU linebacker Tyson Dickson (6th, 9.2).
VMI first-year head coach Scott Wachenheim was very complimentary of the Catamount football team, stating that Saturday would be a "tremendous challenge" for his squad.
"I think they are an outstanding football team. They're extremely talented and are very well-coached. They are fundamentally sound, they run and play hard to the football; they get after folks," said Wachenheim during his time on the teleconference. "Their quarterback (Troy Mitchell) just makes it all work. He can make the first guy miss when he's running the football, and he's a very accurate passer. They are just a tough team to defend."
Wachenheim stated the biggest challenges for his squad this season has been turnover margin. He stated his squad has "too many turnovers; not enough takeaways" -- a statement that is backed-up by a minus-18 turnover margin this season (13 gained, 31 lost).
Saturday's game will be produced and broadcast by VMI online on ESPN3. Fans can also follow the game on the Catamount Sports Network with live streaming audio available at CatamountSports.com. Air time of the Pepsi Tailgate Show is 12:30 pm.
Western Carolina continued to receive votes in both the STATS FCS Media and NCAA FCS Coaches polls released on Tuesday. The Catamounts checked in at No. 38 this week in both tabulations, among those receiving votes. According to the latest Gridiron Power Index (GPI) put out by College Sporting News, the Southern Conference ranked third among
The Catamounts returned to practice on Tuesday evening, their first since taking two days off following the impressive showing on the road at SEC-West foe, Texas A&M. WCU will practice again Wednesday and Thursday in Cullowhee before departing for northern Virginia on Friday.
Here is an excerpt from Tuesday's teleconference:
Western Carolina associate head coach Mark Rhea:
On back-to-back winning seasons, improvement and growth of the program:
"Our improvement is all a testament to our leader, Coach (Mark) Speir. He's the cornerstone. He'll always tell you -- and its one thing that he'll say -- it's not about him, it's about our players. But I say it's a testament to him. He's come in here and established the ground work and the foundation."
"The leadership that is proven time-and-time again with our players, it's the right goals, the right character, the right things to do. And our kids feed from that and they see the progress that this program has made under the leadership of Coach Speir. It has shown that you can do things the right way and be successful. And as a result, we have an opportunity to compete at a level to even be considered as one of the top teams in our conference, and to have another opportunity at a winning season. And to be talking about those things at Western Carolina is a testament from our chancellor down to our athletic director to our head coach. Leadership starts at the top and has trickled down to our players."
VMI head coach Scott Wachenheim:
On coming off a bye week into this week's match-up:
"We had played 10-straight weeks and prior to this week's rankings, had played the 22nd-toughest FCS schedule. And after playing 10-straight weeks against that quality of schedule, we were a little bit beat up. So, we took advantage of the time off; cut practice back a bit -- we practiced Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. We went out there and worked on the basic fundamentals that all teams do in the open week, and got an early start versus Western Carolina. Then Friday, we had some good conditioning and then Saturday and Sunday, we let them have that weekend off. We were back on Monday at practice, getting ready for Western Carolina."
On scouting Western Carolina from last week at Texas A&M:
"I watched Western Carolina's game against the Texas A&M Aggies. I thought Coach (Mark) Speir and his team did an excellent job competing; score was 21-14 going into half and could have been 21-21. They competed really well against a very talented Texas A&M team in a hostile location. Very proud with the way they represented the Southern Conference. But for a couple different plays, that game could have gone either way in the fourth quarter."
More on Western Carolina:
"Detrez Newsome is second in the conference in rushing and first in all-purpose yards. Troy Mitchell played his high school ball where a good friend of mine is the head coach, so I know all about Troy. And they've got 3-or-4 superstar receivers that are tough to stop. All of their receivers are very talented and difficult to stop."
"On the defensive side of the ball, Caleb Hawkins is a heck of a pass rusher. He's fifth in the SoCon in tackles for loss and fourth in sacks. Both of their linebackers (Tyson) Dickson and (Daniel) Riddle just do an excellent job running to the football, making tackles and keeping everything bottled up."
On the health of VMI starting QB Al Cobb:
"Al Cobb has practiced this week and he will start the game for us."