Western Carolina Preview: Catamounts visit Blacksburg

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This week’s opponent is a little bit different than last week’s.  Western Carolina is no Alabama.  The Catamounts won just one game a year ago, and they have one of the worst defenses to ever appear on a Virginia Tech schedule.

In 2012, Western Carolina opened the season with a 42-14 win over Division II Mars Hill.  They have not won a football game since.

September 8: 52-24 L to Marshall
September 15: 49-20 L to Wofford
September 22: 25-21 L to Samford
September 29: 45-24 L to Furman
October 6: 45-12 L to Georgia Southern
October 13: 45-31 L to the Citadel
October 20: 42-31 L to Elon
October 27: 38-27 L to Appalachian State
November 3: 45-24 L to Chattanooga
November 17: 49-0 L to Alabama

Not only did the Catamounts lose, they generally got thrashed, and they couldn’t stop the opponent from scoring.  They opened the 2013 season with a 45-24 loss to Middle Tennessee State, which was probably a better showing than most people expected.

Western Carolina trivia: Lorenzo Ferguson, who started at whip linebacker for the Hokies in 1998, went on to play at Western Carolina after being booted from the Tech team.

The Western Carolina Offense

Western Carolina will smartly try to establish a running game to keep their undermanned, undersized and out-talented defense off the field.  Last year the Catamounts average 166.91 rushing yards per game, which ranked 45th in the country in the 1-AA ranks.

Western Carolina will use two quarterbacks in this game: Eddie Sullivan (6-1, 200, r-Jr.) and Troy Mitchell (6-0, 200, So.).  Both of these players will be used to run a lot of read options.  Here’s a look at the numbers both guys put up against Middle Tennessee State last week:

Sullivan: 12-of-21 for 96 yards, 0 TD and 1 INT, 6 carries for -7 yards
Mitchell: 7-of-15, 161 yards, 2 TD and 1 INT, 11 carries for 38 yards

While Sullivan is still technically listed as the starter on Western Carolina’s depth chart, Mitchell is the more effective player if you judge strictly by stats in week one.  However, both of those guys split time last season, and Catamount head coach Mark Speir doesn’t appear to be close to making a decision.

If Speir does make a decision this week, it likely won’t matter because whichever quarterback he chooses will have to play behind an undersized and inexperienced offensive line.  From left to right, here’s what the Western Carolina offensive line looks like:

LT Quevalas Murray (6-2, 295, Sr.)
LG Matt DeGraffinreid (6-2, 300, So.)
C Jake Thornton (6-0, 260, r-So.)
RG Hunter Kirby (6-2, 280, So.)
RT Josh Wineberg (6-6, 270, So.)

The backup left tackle is true freshman Ryan McLaughlin, who is only 6-2, 240.  That should show you exactly how much Western Carolina is lacking when it comes to talent and experience.  That offensive line simply has no hope of blocking a Virginia Tech front seven that couldn’t be blocked by Alabama last weekend.

Western Carolina will use two running backs: Shaun Warren (5-7, 175, Jr.) and Garry Lewis (5-9, 185, Fr.).  Warren had 13 carries for 55 yards and a touchdown last week, while Lewis had five carries for 25 yards.  The two players, along with the two quarterbacks, will try to hit the Hokies with a read option attack that many programs are running throughout college football.

The Catamounts will spread the field with wide receivers.  Here are the guys to keep an eye on, sorted by their stats against Middle Tennessee State:

Jeff Moore (5-9, 165, r-Jr.): 6 catches, 49 yards
Karnorris Benson (6-1, 205, Jr.): 4 catches, 113 yards, 1 TD
Terryon Robinson (5-11, 185, Fr.): 4 catches, 78 yards

Because of their lack of size, talent and experience, as well as the fact that their quarterbacks aren’t good passers, this offense will struggle to move the football against Virginia Tech.

The Western Carolina Defense

Take a look at the numbers the Western Carolina defense put up last season:

Rush: 329.36 ypg, 120th nationally
Pass: 185 ypg, 27th nationally
Total: 514.36 ypg, 119th nationally
Pass Eff: 159.07, 116th nationally
Scoring: 40.82 ppg, 117th nationally
Sacks: 1.09 per game, 110th nationally
TFL: 4.45 per game, 108th nationally

Remember, those rankings are for 1-AA defenses, which makes the Catamounts probably the worst overall 1-AA defense in the entire country.  They can’t stop the run, they can’t pressure the quarterback, and their pass efficiency defense is severely lacking.

Western Carolina has a very small defense up front.  Here’s a quick look at their starting lineup:

DE Brian Johnson (6-3, 240, r-Sr.)
DT Andre Whitmire (6-0, 250, Sr.)
DT Andre Shishkin (6-3, 270, r-Sr.)
DE Caleb Hawkins (6-3, 245, So.)
OLB Bryson Jordan (6-1, 200, Fr.)
MLB Courtland Carson (6-0, 215, Sr.)
OLB Christon Gill (6-0, 215, Jr.)

That’s a very small defensive front, so it’s easy to see a Virginia Tech running game that found success against Alabama putting up big numbers against the Catamounts.  With so many small players, as well as an undersized true freshman at outside linebacker, the Hokies shouldn’t have any trouble running the football if they are focused.


Trey Edmunds
Trey Edmunds

The Catamounts have size issues and experience issues at cornerback as well.  Jaleel Lorquet (5-10, 165, So.) starts at one cornerback spot, while true freshman Trey Morgan (6-0, 175) starts at the other.  Morgan is backed up by fellow true freshman Fred Payne (5-10, 175).

Judging from the size of Western Carolina’s defense, their inexperience at certain positions, as well as their extreme lack of talent, Virginia Tech’s offense should be able to attack the Catamounts successfully at any spot on the field.

Special Teams

Richard Sigmon (5-10, 185, Jr.) handles the field goal duties for Western Carolina.  He booted a 21 yard kick last week against Middle Tennessee State, and he is 7-of-13 for his career, with a long of 40 yards.  He is 24-of-27 for his career on PAT’s.

Clark Sechrest (6-0, 215, Sr.) is Western Carolina’s punter.  He averaged 41.9 yards per punt last season, and is one of the better punters in the Southern Conference.  Expect to see Sechrest on the field a lot on Saturday.

Western Carolina only averaged 17.7 yards per kickoff return and 3.5 yards per punt return against Middle Tennessee State.  They also allowed a punt return for a touchdown.  The Hokies will have a huge advantage on special teams this weekend.

Final Thoughts

I want to see several things this week…

No injuries: The Virginia Tech offense has been decimated by injuries this year.  They certainly don’t need to lose anymore players, especially against a team like Western Carolina.

Lots of time for the backups: Tech needs to run Western Carolina off the field early so the backups can play a lot.

Dominance at the point of attack: We’ve seen the Tech offensive line struggled to get first downs in short yardage situations against teams like Furman, William & Mary and Austin Peay in the past.  I want this Catamount defensive line to be completely blown off the ball.

This game has the makings of being a yawner.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 52, Western Carolina 0

Will Stewart’s Take: Trivia — when was the last time Virginia Tech rushed for over 300 yards in a game? (Cue Jeopardy! music.)

Answer: at NC State, October 2nd, 2010. That was 37 games ago. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not as if the Hokies run for 300+ yards a lot. They’ve only done it three times since 2005, by my count, in a quick spin through the hokiesports.com stats. I went as far back as the 2000 season, when VT featured a deep, experienced OL and Lee Suggs and Michael Vick, and I found four 300 yard games that season. But that’s pretty unusual, especially now that VT has more offensive balance. (The Hokies ran the ball 71.6% of the time in 2000; last year, it was only 53.7% of the time.)

But I’m looking for 300 rushing yards in this game. Based on the offensive line I saw against Alabama, and the small size of WCU’s defensive line, Saturday should be all about establishing the running game, and seeing if the ability Virginia Tech showed to get a push against Alabama is real.

Of course, Scot Loeffler might want to — cough, ahem — work on the passing game. That might hold the rushing totals down.

Defensively, the Hokies are tasked with showing that the intensity they had against Alabama is going to last the whole season. If it does, they’ll be fine. Assuming this game turns into a romp, there will be two sets of defensive stats to pay attention to: the stats while the starters are in, and the stats while the backups are in. By “backups”, I mean the third-stringers and walk-ons who would get to play in the fourth quarter of a romp, not the regular guys who sub in.

There’s not a lot to say about a game like this, except there’s pressure on the Hokies in a game like this not just to win, but to look good doing it. Austin Peay was similarly overmatched last year, but the Hokies were sloppy in slogging their way to a 42-7 win. Part of that pressure comes from some of the good things they showed against Alabama: the running game and the defense. The rest — special teams and the passing game — will be watched just for improvement, not necessarily dominance.

Another thought: they should hold a moment of silence after the National Anthem, in memory of the sellout streak, which will probably end tomorrow.

Yet another thought: can’t wait to see that new video board. With an improved sound system, if they put together a good new Enter Sandman entrance video, it should rock.

Will’s Prediction: Virginia Tech 52, Western Carolina 10

Yep … just like Chris, I’m predicting they’ll break the 50 barrier, not seen since the 66-13 win over App. State to open the 2011 season. Dicey business in these days of a rebuilding offense, but ya gotta believe.

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13 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. It’s interesting (probably to me only) that Alabama beat WCU 49-0 last year just like they beat Loeffler’s Auburn team 49-0….two weeks in a row.

    We should score a lot. Less than 35 for us and more than zero for them in the first half is a bad sign, in my opinion.

    A few things I am looking for are that this game should tell us which true freshmen are going to get on the field during 2013 and give a few more hints on what our play-calling will look like.

    I agree that we should not play games like this. While the AD likes having to pay them $350K vs. the larger fee that a lower-tier FBS team would command, the stadium atmosphere, inability to sell tickets, and, by extension, the inability of season ticket holders to re-sell their unused tickets, add up to this being the kind of game that SHOULD NOT HAPPEN. I would prefer that we have an off-week after playing Alabama instead of a practice game like this.

    Now that my rant is over, I’m absolutely looking forward bringing my kids to what will be a beautiful Saturday in Blacksburg .

  2. Why play games like this? Wouldn’t it make more sense to cut the regular season back to 11 games for all BCS teams, and take these yawners off the schedule?

  3. Can totally see rushing yards be lower than expected due to a higher rate of passing to get confidence back in the wr’s.

    1. Special Teams. Look for a bad long snap, a fumbled punt reception, etc. Anything can happen.

      I want to see a perfect special teams effort this week – and on offense for the receivers to run sharp routes and block downfield.

  4. IMHO, the only way VT scores more than 50 is if the defense or special teams score late into the game. I think VT is capable of running up the score, but I just don’t think Coach Beamer will allow it. I hope to see VT work on the fundamentals and use the game to allow the coaches the luxury of seeing what the #2s and #3s are capable of doing. Use the game to coach up the younguns

  5. Yikes this is a bad team!! almost like DIV II. If we cannot score AT WILL on this team then something is wrong. 2nd and 3rd string should be in by 2nd quarter, not 2nd half. This is almost like playing a high school team in terms of size and talent. They are slower, smaller, and weaker. Now, the real question. How will our 3rd string do aginst these guys??? they are 3rd stringers for a reason but they are a DIV I-A 3rd stringers vs this almost DIV II team.

  6. I am painfully afeared that this is going to be a 35-10 disappointment. We’ll score on a handful of big plays where our bigger, stronger, and faster athletes just blow by their defense … and struggle to put together long drives otherwise. Maybe that just the traditionalist in me speaking. I hope I’m wrong.

    1. I disagree. I believe we will be able to move the ball without a problem. The reason why I’m so optimistic after the Bama loss, is because the core of our offense is running the ball. And aside from the long run by Edmonds we were still getting enough yardage to make it third and short. Now the WR need to step up and make catches, Logan needs to work on his progressions and the Oline needs to continue to perform well. This will be a good fine tuning game before the real games start.

  7. MY B-I-L works in the athletic department at WCU. They’re starting QB got hurt last week and from what he said he doesn’t believe he’ll play much. From the sounds of it the only way they put points on the board is if our offense gives it to them. D will shut them down. This might be one of those games where the opposing offense doesn’t get 100 yards of total offense.

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