BY RYAN BLACK | firstname.lastname@example.org
With the 2013 season drawing closer by the minute, it’s never too early to begin taking a look at Auburn’s opponents in the coming campaign. On Day 3, we continue with the Western Carolina Catamounts, who the Tigers will host at Jordan-Hare Stadium in their sixth game of the season.
Who: Western Carolina
Where: Jordan-Hare Stadium (87,451) | Auburn, Ala.
All-time series: Auburn leads 2-0
When last they met: It has been 11 long years since Auburn and Western Carolina squared off on the gridiron. Needless to say, that game has no bearing on this one. 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. Tigers quarterback Jason Campbell was surgically precise, 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.)
The coach: Mark Speir (1-10 last season in first year at Western Carolina)
2012 record: 1-10, 0-8 Southern Conference
Total offense: 335.73 ypg (88th in Division I FCS, 9th in Southern Conference)
Scoring offense: 23.36 ppg (78th, 9th)
Total defense: 514.36 ypg (119th, 9th)
Scoring defense:40.82 ppf (117th, 9th)
2012 Year-in-Review: The Speir era got off to a great start, as Western Carolina pummeled Mars Hill, a member of Division II, 42-14 in its opening game of the year. It was not a sign of things to come. After winning the opener, the Catamounts ended the year on a 10-game losing streak. In those 10 losses, Western Carolina were outscored by 220 points, 435-215. The only defeat that came by single-digits was a 25-21 decision to Samford, which was undefeated at the time. As that point disparity shows, the Catamounts had trouble stopping people last season — their 514.36 yards per game allowed last season was second-to-last in the FCS, while their scoring defense (40.82, ranking 117th out of 120 FCS teams) wasn’t much better. The Catamounts weren’t quite as dismal offensively (see their scoring offense/total offense numbers above), but that isn’t saying much.
Biggest area of concern: To reiterate an earlier point, the Catamounts’ defense was really, really bad in 2012. But wait, the news gets even worse: The best player on last year’s unit, linebacker Rock Williams, is gone after graduating. The senior was a first-team all-conference pick by the media and tabbed second-team all-conference by the league’s coaches. Williams led the Southern Conference by averaging 12 tackles per game; he accumulated 20-plus tackles twice last season, bringing down a career-high 24 against The Citadel and 23 versus Appalachian State. He finished his Catamount career with 319 total tackles, good for seventh all-time at the Cullowhee, N.C., school. One player won’t be able to fill the enormous void left by Williams, both in production and leadership. Instead, it will take a collective effort by every member of the Catamounts’ defense to try to get things moving in the right direction.
Key returning player/unit: After senior running back Michael Johnson missed a pair of games in the middle of the season due to injury, true freshman Darius Ramsey was inserted into the lineup. He didn’t disappoint. Ramsey finished the season with team-highs in rushing yards (503) and rushing yards per game (55.9), which was the 10th-best mark in the SoCon. Those stats helped him earn a nod to the Southern Conference All-Freshman team last season, and more pertinently for the Catamounts’ future, possibly a player to build their offense around for the next three years.
Extra point: Last year marked Speir’s first season as a head coach 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.