AUBURN, Ala. — As we do every Thursday evening, War Eagle Extra was able to track down a beat writer for Auburn's opponent this weekend. Keith Jarrett, who covers Western Carolina games for the Asheville Citizen-Times in Asheville, N.C., on occasion, was gracious enough to answer five questions about the Catamounts before the team makes the westward trek for this weekend's game in Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Ryan Black: First things first: Given the current state of the Western Carolina program — it has lost 31 straight games against FBS/FCS teams, including 24 in a row in Southern Conference play — what is the general vibe among the coaching staff and players? Do they seem to sense that brighter days are on the horizon? Or does this losing streak to fellow Division I schools seem like it has no end in sight?
Keith Jarrett: There is some hope for the future. Second-year coach Mark Speir has invested heavily in playing young guys, as 31 of the 42 on the two deep are freshmen and sophomores. The theory is they take their lumps now, learn how to play and hopefully when they are juniors and seniors, the program will be competitive.
Black: Quarterback Troy Mitchell made five starts last season. He will match that number once he takes the Catamounts' first play from scrimmage on Saturday. With that in mind, has he shown the kind of progression people expect from Year 1 to Year 2 at the position?
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Jarrett: Mitchell has improved, both in decision making and leading the team. He’s a better runner than passer but he’s a good Southern Conference quarterback. Speir has said he is the future of the program, so they are invested totally in him.
Black: Receiver Kanorris Brown's numbers stand out like they're written in neon: 23 receptions, 412 yards (with a long of 80) and six touchdowns, which mark team-highs in every category. Brown aside, what other offensive player(s) should Auburn be aware of Saturday?
Jarrett: Tailback Darius Ramsey gets the majority of the carries when Mitchell doesn’t keep the ball. He’s a small, quick back. Wide receiver Terryon Robinson and Willie Police rank behind Benson in receptions.
Black: Question No. 4 is quite similar to No. 3. All you have to do is switch the stats to defense and insert Courtland Carson's name in place of Brown's. Carson notwithstanding, which Catamount defender should the Tigers' offense be on the lookout for?
Jarrett: The fact that two of their leading tacklers (Sertonuse Harris and Ace Clark) are safeties says a lot; the front four is small and not very good and usually gets pushed around. Defensive end Brian Johnson is active as is outside linebacker Christon Gill.
Black: Finally, assuming Western Carolina doesn't pull off the biggest upset in college football history, what would suffice as a "victory" Saturday, in your opinion? Scoring multiple touchdowns? Scoring more than the three it had against Virginia Tech earlier this year? Or perhaps scoring at all? It would represent progress over the last time the Catamounts played in Jordan-Hare Stadium, when they were blanked 56-0 in 2002.
Jarrett: Progress for WCU would be to not suffer too many injuries. Playing their third FBS game in seven starts is too much for a program with such little talent and size, so scoring a touchdown against Auburn would probably be a big accomplishment. They’ve collected $1.1 million for the three money games.