First take: A quick look at Western Carolina

rblack@ledger-enquirer.comOctober 6, 2013 

Western Carolina faces off against Auburn this weekend, bringing a 1-5 overall record along with it. The Catamounts faced Virginia Tech earlier this year, losing to the Hokies 45-3.


Who: Western Carolina (1-5; lost at Chattanooga 42-21 on Saturday) at Auburn (4-1, 1-1; beat No. 24 Ole Miss 30-22 on Saturday)

When: Saturday, 2 p.m. ET

Where: Jordan-Hare Stadium (87,451) | Auburn, Ala.

TV: Auburn PPV

Radio: Auburn IMG Sports Network (WVRK-102.9 FM in Columbus; WGZZ-94.3 FM in Auburn/Opelika)

All-time series: Auburn leads 2-0

When last they met: It has been more than a decade since Auburn and Western Carolina last squared off on the gridiron. The game went the way you would expect, with the Tigers rolling over the Catamounts 56-0. The box score was symmetrical, as Auburn scored 28 points in each half, 21 in the first and third quarters, and seven in the second and fourth. Tiger quarterback Jason Campbell was surgically efficient, completing 12 of his 14 passes for 147 yards and one touchdown, and tacking another score on the board by keeping the ball himself. Running back Carnell “Cadillac” Williams carried the ball only four times, but he made them count, scoring twice (on runs of 20 and 42 yards) and sitting out the remainder of the contest once the first quarter ended. Others scoring touchdowns included Ronnie Brown, Tre Smith and Chris Butler, the star of the game who ran for a career-best 91 yards. The Tigers used this game as a way to take out their frustration from a 24-17 loss to Southern California in Los Angeles just five days earlier. And did they ever take out their frustration. The Tigers racked up 621 yards of total offense, and the 56 points they totaled marked the first time in six years they had hung “half a hundred” on somebody in Steve Spurrier-speak. (The previous occasion was in 1996, when Auburn tallied 62 points against Fresno State.)

Quick facts on Western Carolina: Mark Speir is 2-15 in two seasons at Western Carolina entering this week's contest. ... Western Carolina lost to Chattanooga 42-21 on Saturday, which dropped the Catamounts' record to 1-5 overall and 0-3 in Southern Conference play this year. The Catamounts' lone victory in 2013 came Sept. 21 against Division II Mars Hill by a score of 30-23. It required a fourth-quarter rally by Western Carolina, as it trailed 21-10 with just 10:57 to play. ... The Catamounts are struggling in nearly every area a team can struggle. It is being outscored by a 2-to-1 margin (40.8 to 20.3) every game, and is allowing 444.3 yards of total offense per contest, nearly 100 yards more than its 350.5 per game output. One bright spot? Kicker Richard Sigmon is 4-for-5 on his field goal attempts this season. ... Starting quarterback Troy Mitchell hasn't been able to find much consistency this season, completing 58.3 percent of his passes (74-for-127) for 1,030 yards. On Saturday, he tossed three interceptions in the first half; for the year, he has eight touchdowns and five interceptions. ... Senior linebacker Courtland Carson leads the team in tackles with 65 (3.5 for loss), 18 more than the next-best on the team. He also has 2.5 sacks and two forced fumbles this year. ... Saturday will mark the second time the Catamounts face a school from a BCS conference. Western Carolina visited Blacksburg, Va., Sept. 7 and lost to Virginia Tech 45-3.

Which Tiger is primed for a big performance: With all due respect to the Catamounts, the Tigers should be able to do whatever they want this Saturday. So why not try to get the passing game back on track? In a career-best showing, Nick Marshall threw for 339 yards and two touchdowns against Mississippi State. In the two games since, he has combined for 317 yards and no touchdowns while tossing two interceptions. If Marshall is ever going to develop the timing he needs with his receivers — and cut out his overthrows that have become commonplace — this would be the game to do it.

Which Catamount could give the home team fits: While their difficulties on both offense and defense have already been well-documented above, the Catamounts are not without talent. Take sophomore receiver Karnorris Benson. The Atlanta native leads the Catamounts in every receiving category, including receptions (23), yards (412), touchdowns (six) and yards per game (68.7). All of those numbers surpass everything Benson did as a freshman last year, when he finished with 19 receptions, 349 receiving yards and only one touchdown. He'll be facing an Auburn defense that has seen an opposing receiver gain 100 or more yards in each of the last two games. (Those players were LSU's Jarvis Landry and Ole Miss' Donte Moncrief). With Benson doing his best to make that three games in a row, the Tigers will have to be aware of where he's at on the field at all times, especially given his ability to break a big play at any time. (Enter his 80-yard score against Mars Hill as Exhibit A.)

Extra point: Western Carolina represents Speir's first head coaching job after spending 21 years as an assistant at various schools in the Carolinas, including Presbyterian, Elon and Appalachian State. He was part of the Mountaineers’ three-peat in FCS from 2005-07, as well as their monumental 34-32 road victory against then-No. 5 Michigan in the opening game of the 2007 season. Speir graduated from Clemson with a bachelor’s degree in 1990 and got his master’s from Western Carolina in 1994.

Related stories:

Auburn football video: Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson speaks after Sunday's practice

Auburn postgame video: Tigers react to 30-22 victory against Rebels

Assessing Auburn's 30-22 win over Ole Miss

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