published Thursday, November 1st, 2012

WCU making progress: Catamounts have a 21-game losing streak, but coach Speir has optimism

The numbers aren't where Mark Speir wants them to be — and there's the matter of what is now a 21-game Southern Conference losing streak — but progress is being made at Western Carolina.

"They are a better football team, and they are well coached," said University of Tennessee at Chattanooga coach Russ Huesman, whose Mocs (4-4, 3-2) visit the Cullowhee, N.C., team Saturday. "I know the wins aren't coming as quickly as they would want, but you can see they are better."

A longtime Appalachian State assistant, Speir was hired by the Catamounts last December. He replaced Dennis Wagner, who in four seasons went 8-36 at WCU and resigned prior to the 2011 finale.

WCU beat Division II Mars Hill in Speir's debut and have dropped eight games in a row since. The Catamounts have been competitive in some of the defeats, including last Saturday's 38-27 loss to No. 14 Appalachian State.

"We've still got a lot of work to do, but we feel like we have improved," Speir said. "We're building that foundation that we're going to base the future off of. It's a struggle every day trying to get them over that hump. We're playing better ball but still not good enough to win."

The Catamounts have one of the most prolific tacklers in the country in linebacker Rock Williams, who is first in the SoCon and second in the Football Championship Subdivision with 14.1 tackles per game. Williams' 24 tackles against The Citadel is a single-game high in the FCS game this season.

But WCU ranks No. 119 out of 121 FCS teams in total defense and No. 115 in scoring defense.

Offensively, UTC and WCU are both at or near the bottom of the SoCon. The Catamounts are seventh in scoring (25.9 ppg) and eighth in total offense (360.2 ypg), while UTC is last in both categories (24.9 ppg and 334.1 ypg).

Western Carolina's 183.8 rushing yards per game is second only to Appalachian State among non-triple-option programs. The Catamounts lead the league in red-zone offense, scoring on 27 of 30 trips inside the 20-yard line.

"They're giving us a lot of effort," Speir said of his players. "We've just got to work on the preparation part, when they're away from the field. ... We're trying to create those habits for what it takes to be successful in this conference."

The Catamounts' last SoCon success was a 24-13 victory at The Citadel on Oct. 2, 2010.

about John Frierson...

John Frierson is in his seventh year at the Times Free Press and seventh year covering University of Tennessee at Chattanooga athletics. The bulk of his time is spent covering Mocs football, but he also writes about women’s basketball and the big-picture issues and news involving the athletic department. A native of Athens, Ga., John grew up a few hundred yards from the University of Georgia campus. Instead of becoming a Bulldog he attended Ole ...

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