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September 6, 2013Sign-up for HokieHaven.com Wireless Text Alerts sent right to your cell phone!
Each game, we'll get the inside look at Virginia Tech's opponent by talking with the opposing team's beat writer. This week, we spoke with Catamount Sports Network color analyst Steve White to get the inside look at Western Carolina.
1) It's hard not to look past Western Carolina's 1-11 record last season. What was the biggest reason for that tough season?
White: Well, it's something that didn't start last year. It's been a series, ever since the early 2000s, the first part of the decade. Our program has sort of been on the downswing. We've had one winning season since 2001 and that was a 5-4 record. It's just been steadily deteriorating over the last several years.
The new coaching staff, with Mark Speir, came in last year in the prior December, before last season. You could already see a tremendous difference. You could see it last year, even though they were 1-11. They made a lot of progress, but again, playing a lot of freshmen and sophomores. It's the same thing this year. It's just been a talent void, a leadership void. The program has just hit rock bottom, dug a hole when it hit and it really got bad. I've never my experience anything like this in all my years at Western Carolina.
But the upswing now, we're not gonna win too many ball games this year because of our schedule. We've got three 'money games' with Middle Tennessee, Virginia Tech and Auburn and all of our toughest conference games are on the road, seven total road games. This is the least experienced team I've been around in 51 years at Western Carolina football. There's more freshmen and sophomores playing than in the history of the program. There's a lot of talent, but like last week, it was a lot of deer in the headlight situations.
2) What encouraging signs did you see in the Catamounts' 45-24 loss at MTSU?
White: We just came out so deer in the headlights. We got down quickly by three touchdowns and really settled down and played good football for the second, third and fourth quarters. But MTSU really wore us down in the fourth quarter. We had cornerbacks coming up and making tackles at the line of scrimmage, which we haven't seen in a while. We actually could cover past receivers at times.
There were very encouraging signs. The year before last, it seemed like they would give up in the second half. They would get down and there was no fight left in them. It's quite different this year. Even though the score doesn't indicate it, a three-touchdown loss, Middle Tennessee is a very good mid-level football program, with 17 starters back from last year.
3) Since Western Carolina has played at Alabama, Georgia Tech and NC State in the past few seasons, is this a team that's fairly used to playing in big stadiums and bigger crowds?
White: Oh, yes. Being at Alabama last year, with 98,000 or so last year, we've played at Florida, Florida State and been around the block. The kids in the program are getting used to that. They actually look forward to it. It's one of these things that's not a negative at all and it's something we have to do to float our program, to get to where we want to and get our scholarships. Our 62 scholarships are predicated on in-state scholarships. We cannot compete by recruiting in-state. We've gotta go out of state, at least half our scholarships, to the Atlanta, Spartanburg areas, so we have to add scholarships any way we can. In the money game, that's how we do it.
I think it's a very positive, not a negative thing for our kids. I don't think they're intimidated at all. I think they really get excited about it and it gets their juices flowing.
4) Who's the one player Virginia Tech fans should be watching for in this game fir the Catamounts?
White: I'm not sure about the status of our quarterback, Troy Mitchell. He got his bell rung in the fourth quarter at Middle Tennessee. I'm not sure how much he'll be able to play.
We have a wide receiver, Kamorris Benson, he's a redshirt junior and he could really be a draft choice in the NFL. He's got the speed, the moves, the hands and everything. We're gonna be throwing a lot and he'll be the center of a lot of our attention. This young man really caught some eyes last week, had an outstanding ball game. I think he's one unique player to watch out for in the future of Western Carolina.
We also have a young linebacker, a couple of defensive backs, Bryson Jordan, who just happens to be the son of former baseball player Brian Jordan. He started at outside linebacker as a freshman and Trey Morgan, a defensive back, who's a true freshman. These are some of the guys that jumped out last week in their first collegiate game.
5) I know Western Carolina is playing to win, but what else needs to happen for the Catamounts to consider positives against Virginia Tech?
White: Everything will sort of slow down when we get into our schedule. It's very quick right now with Middle Tennessee and even more so with Virginia Tech. Offensively, I have no idea what we're gonna try to look at against that defense. I know Virginia Tech is known for its defense. I watched the game against Alabama last week and I'll tell you, we've played some very good defensive teams, like Florida in 2006 and Alabama last year, Auburn in the 80s. This defense compares very favorably to those defenses. Being a very young offensive football team, I think it's just a matter of right now, trying to get some execution down.
They know they're not gonna get off any big runs against this defense. It's try to not make any mistakes. I know Beamer Ball and the special teams, it's gonna put a lot of pressure on them, but they're looking for some poise and execution. When we play The Citadel next week in our first conferece game, things will slow down and they'll have a really good concept of what's going on.
FEARLESS PREDICTION : I would be afraid to say that. Realistically, you're probably looking at a four to five touchdown difference. I'm sure Coach Beamer, in this situation, by the fourth quarter, he's gonna be looking at people he's not sure he's even seen on the practice field. We'd love to be able to do something positive, but that would be the extent of it as far as stats in this game.
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