Western Carolina at Chattanooga
Saturday, 6 p.m. ET
Finley Stadium (20,668) • Chattanooga, Tenn.
Radio: ESPN 105.1 FM
TV: ThisTV (9.2)
Series Record: UTC leads 23-16
Why Saturday is important
The Mocs, still in search of their first Southern Conference victory of 2013, return to action after suffering yet another agonizing, late-game loss last week at Georgia Southern. They couldn’t have asked for a more fitting opponent to move past it, either. Western Carolina is in the midst of a 24-game losing streak and hasn’t defeated a single Division I opponent in its last 30 tries. While a win isn’t quite a foregone conclusion, the struggling Catamounts provide a good opportunity for Chattanooga to forget last week’s painful 23-21 setback and move on.
Three things to know about Western Carolina
The Catamount’s 24-game SoCon losing streak is the longest conference drought in Division I football, and the third-longest in league history — VMI holds the record of 28 straight conference losses from 1996 to 2000. WCU’s current skid started on Oct. 9, 2010 with a home loss to Samford, one week after its last conference win at The Citadel (Oct. 2, 2010) ... Sophomore quarterback Troy Mitchell, who leads the SoCon in total offense (283.5 ypg), has been the offensive catalyst for WCU, but the team’s defense has been shredded in each of its four losses, allowing an average of 45 points per contest ... The Catamounts’ lone win of 2013 came two weeks ago against Division II Mars Hill. And while WCU ultimately squeaked by with a win over the Lions, it faced a 21-10 deficit early in the fourth quarter.
What you should know about Western Carolina head coach Mark Spier
While it hasn’t shown up in the form of wins, the Catamounts are an improved team under second-year head coach Mark Spier. Spier, who began his coaching career as a student assistant in 1986, has been a coach on the FCS level for 22 years. He coached the running backs, outside linebackers and defensive line during his first stint at Western Carolina (1991-96), and also served as an assistant at Presbyterian (1997-99), Elon (2000-02) and Appalachian State (2003-11) before being named the 13th coach in WCU history on Dec. 22, 2011.
Chattanooga player to watch
Junior tight end Faysal Shafaat has been relatively quiet the last couple of weeks. He still leads the team in receptions (10) and receiving yards (136), but the 6-foot-5, 250-pounder hasn’t found the end zone since the squad’s 42-14 win at Georgia State. Expect him to have a big day against a struggling Catamounts defense.
Western Carolina player to watch
While quarterback Troy Mitchell and the offense will have to put up some points to win, the Catamounts’ defense — or lack thereof — will determine the outcome. Senior linebacker Courtland Carson leads the SoCon with 52 tackles and his 11.2 tackles-per-game average ranks 12th in the nation.
Random facts to impress your friends
Saturday’s game is featured as “Community Day”, which includes the “Take a Kid to a Game” initiative, Youth Day, Spirit Day and a canned food drive for the Chattanooga Area Food Bank. ... Senior defensive tackle Derrick Lott (elbow) and sophomore offensive lineman Synjen Herren (shoulder) will both miss Saturday’s game due to injuries sustained last week at Georgia Southern. ... After not allowing a single passing yard at GSU — the Eagles only attempted two throws — UTC is No. 5 in the nation in pass defense (132.3 ypg). ... The Mocs lead the SoCon and are seventh in the country in third-down conversion percentage (27/53 - 51%). ... Chattanooga has still yet to attempt a field goal this season. ... Saturday marks the 40th meeting between the two schools in a series that dates back to 1973. The Mocs hold a 23-16 series advantage.
“They look different this year. They look athletic, they can run and I think Mark Spier is doing it the right way. He’s getting kids that can run and coaching them up really well. I think they’re on the right track at Western, but they are extremely, extremely young.”
— Chattanooga head coach Russ Huesman on Western Carolina
The Mocs will win if ...
They show up with the same level of intensity they did a week ago in Statesboro. It’s no secret, Chattanooga is heavily favored heading into this one, and frankly, it shouldn’t even be close in the second half. The Mocs can’t show up with that mentality, though.
The Mocs will lose if ...
They have a repeat performance in the penalty department. UTC was flagged 11 times for 75 yards last week at Georgia Southern. Another sloppy game like that, in addition to a few turnovers, could keep this one close.
Chattanooga 42, Western Carolina 20
Michael Murphy covers UTC athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelNooga.
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