Western Carolina (2-7, 1-4) at Georgia Southern (4-4, 2-4)
All of a sudden everything seems different for the Western Carolina football team.
And, that is not necessarily good news for struggling Georgia Southern.
Two weeks ago the Catamounts snapped a 33-game losing streak to Division I opponents when they beat Elon, 27-24, in overtime before getting a bye week.
The win also ended a 26-game losing streak in the Southern Conference, the second longest in conference history. It might surprise some people to learn the longest non-winning skein in the SoCon belongs to Marshall University which was the dominant team in the conference before it left after the 1996 season.
The Thundering Herd joined the conference in 1976 along with Western Carolina and Chattanooga, and promptly went 0-26-1, the tie coming against the Catamounts, 13-13, in the 1980 season.
Western Carolina (2-7, 1-4) will be looking to break another losing streak at 2 p.m. on Saturday when it faces Georgia Southern (4-4, 2-4) at Paulson Stadium. It will be Homecoming and Senior Day for the Eagles.
Georgia Southern has won 18 straight games against the Catamounts, and is 22-2 overall in the series. Western Carolina’s wins, both at home, came in 1941 and 1994.
However, the Eagles are in a vulnerable position, having lost their last two games and three of their last four. Georgia Southern is averaging 33.6 points per game, but has scored only 14 in its last two.
“This is as good a Western Carolina team as I’ve seen in my entire tenure at Georgia Southern,” Georgia Southern Coach Jeff Monken said. “I’m impressed with what they’re doing offensively, and their defensive coordinator, Shawn Quinn, was on our staff here. They’ve had an extra week to prepare for us.”
Three of the Catamounts’ losses, Monken pointed out, have come to FBS teams Middle Tennessee, Virginia Tech, and Auburn.
Samford and Chattanooga beat the Cats handily, but losses to The Citadel (28-21) and Wofford (21-17) were winnable.
“They snapped the ball over the punter’s head against The Citadel,” Monken said. “And, they were inside the five against Wofford. They easily could have won those two games. The record is deceiving.”
Catamount Coach Mark Spier is no stranger to Georgia Southern and the triple option. He was a defensive assistant at Appalachian State for nine years before taking the WCU job two years ago.
Quinn was on Monken’s staff for two seasons, and he, too, is familiar with the option.
Spier is hopeful the win over Elon, coming a week after the close loss to Wofford, will give his team the confidence and momentum it needs to play with the injury wracked Eagles who will see 16 seniors make their final appearance at home.
“These guys made a commitment to get Georgia Southern football back to respectability and national prominence,” Monken said. “It’s going to be a special day for them. I wish it had been a better year, but a multitude of things went wrong.
“It would be nice to get a win, and finish out on a great note at home.”
That could be a difficult chore as Western Carolina’s strength is the Eagles’ Achilles heel: the Cats are averaging 220 yards per game passing, and Georgia Southern has shown it can make an average passer look great.
The Eagles are allowing 209 passing yards per game which is eighth in the nine-team conference. Samford’s Andy Summerlin threw for a conference high 496 yards against GSU.
“The bye week came at a good time for us,” Spier said. “It gave us a week to refresh and heal up, and it gave us a chance to prepare for the triple option. We’ve got three big conference games left, and going to Statesboro is always one of the toughest venues in the country.
“Our win over Elon was a big win for our program. There was a lot of hard work that went into it, and it showed the kids are staying with the vision, staying with the program. I was overjoyed to see them reap some of the benefits of all their hard work.”
Both quarterback/fullback Jerick McKinnon and quarterback Kevin Ellison are expected to be ready to play for the Eagles. Ellison missed the second half against Furman due to an injured shoulder while McKinnon missed the first half with an ankle sprain.