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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.
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.
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.
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.