In the season opener at Liberty, the Catamounts easily handled the home team by the score of 23-3. With 419 yards of total offense, including 257 on the ground, Western Carolina will try to keep the football moving against an Auburn defense hoping to rebound from an erratic performance Monday night against USC.
Junior running back Manny Deshauters (5-7, 205) leads the Cat attack after rushing for 91 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries Saturday. Western Carolina's rushing game could also be bolstered with the return of two-time All-Southern Conference back Fred Boateng. The junior had knee surgery in the offseason and was held out of the opener, but he is expected to see action against the Tigers this week. In just two seasons he has rushed for 2,159 yards and 18 touchdowns.
Unlike most coaches, Briggs doesn't mind using a two-quarterback system as he showed in the opener. Both Brian Gaither (6-3, 215, Jr.) and Pat Cilento (6-2, 200, Sr.) saw considerable playing time against the Flames and are expected to continue that this week against Auburn. Running a no-huddle offense designed to spread the defense and run the ball against a smaller number of defenders, the duo performed admirably. Combining for 162 yards passing on 15-of-25 attempts, they bring a different brand of football into Jordan-Hare than people are used to seeing with three or four wide receiver formations in the running game as well as the passing game.
At receiver Michael Banks (5-10, 170, Sr.) is the leader for the Cats. With six catches for 77 yards in the first game, he proved once again to be the threat the Catamounts need at the position. Currently ninth on the all-time receiving list at WCU with 2,222 yards and fifth in touchdowns with 16, he will be a player the Tigers will have to keep a close eye on in Saturday's game.
On the other side junior Lamont Seward is a very capable receiver in his own right. The 5-11, 195 junior caught just one pass for seven yards in the opener, but has been very productive in his first two seasons at WCU. With 1,531 yards, he needs just 387 yards to move into the Top 10 on the career list. The third wide receiver will be Brendan Roy (6-3, 210, Sr.). With four catches for 31 yards in the opener, his position as a slot receiver is mostly as a possession guy over the middle of the field.
Up front the Catamounts have perhaps the smallest but quickest line the Tigers will face this season. At 6-2, 300, left guard Thomas Pruett is the big man of the group with left tackle Jon Vaughan (6-4, 270, Jr.), center Linden Ryan (6-3, 270, RFr.), right guard Jason Whaley (6-3, 270, Jr.) and right tackle Caleb Queen (6-4, 285, Sr.) rounding out a group that pounded out nearly a six-minute time of possession advantage in the season opener. Tight end Brian Pesci (6-1, 225, Jr.) rounds out the offensive unit for the Catamounts. Used mostly as a blocker, he didn't catch a pass in the opener.
Defensively, WCU centers it's attack around the play of middle linebacker Rod Dunlap. The Southern Conference Defensive Player of the Week after tallying 10 tackles while adding a sack, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and an interception against Liberty, Dunlap will be the main focus of the Auburn attack against the Catamounts this Saturday. The 6-1, 220 junior has a nose for the football and jarring it loose. Last season he was second in the conference with four forced fumbles.
Joining Dunlap at strong linebacker will be redshirt freshman Jada Sullivan (5-11, 200) in WCU's 4-2 alignment. They also employ a bandit which is a linebacker/safety hybrid similar to what Auburn used the last three seasons as a whip. Senior Dunstan Kendrick (6-1, 205) will handle the spot and his main job Saturday could be to shadow Auburn tailback Carnell Williams when he's in the game.
Up front the Catamounts boast one of the better groups in I-AA football with junior defensive end Nick McNeil the bellcow of the group. A 6-4, 245 speedster off the corner, he had 11 sacks last season and has 12 for his career, good enough for fourth on the active leader list in the Southern Conference. On the other side former running back Michale Spicer (6-3, 240) is also a load to handle and the duo will give Auburn's offensive tackles a test on Saturday.
In the middle, defensive tackle Luis Herron (6-3, 290, RFr.) and nose tackle Jeb Hall (6-3, 280, Sr.) bring some size and stability to an otherwise undersized defense.
In the secondary, preseason All-Southern Conference selection Justin Fryer leads the Catamounts. The senior free safety sat out the Liberty game after dislocating his toe and is still listed as questionable for Saturday's game. If he can't go that will be a big blow for a secondary counting on his playmaking abilities. In his place sophomore Teddy Burgis (6-1, 190) will handle the duties and is joined in the deep secondary by senior strong safety Pat Leach (5-9, 175).
At the corner spots senior Ahmed Green (5-11, 180) and the pair of B.J. Jessup (5-9, 165, Jr.) and Randy Thompson (5-9, 170, Jr.) will handle the duties against a much larger group of receivers than they are using to lining up against.
The kicking game is solid for the Catamounts with junior Chris Vought handling the place-kicking duties while junior Stanton Horne handles the punting. In the opener Vought connected on field goals of 34, 29 and 40 yards while Horne averaged 36 yards on three punts. Returning punts will be Banks while T. Alford (5-11, 170, Jr.), a backup cornerback, will return kickoffs.
Even with the travel time and short preparation week this should be a game that the Tigers win against a solid Division I-AA opponent. WCU should bring a much better team to Jordan-Hare Stadium than the punchless squad that fell 55-6 to Auburn in 1986 in the only previous meeting between the two football programs.
With superior depth and talent, Auburn should be able to exploit an undersized defense by running Williams and a bevy of running backs right at the WCU front seven. Look for the Catamounts to bring eight and perhaps nine men into the box on Saturday to force quarterback Daniel Cobb into making plays down the field. That should open up receivers Silas Daniels, Devin Aromashodu and Ben Obomanu for some big plays over the top of the Catamount defense if the Tiger passing game is on target.
Offensively, WCU will try to keep Auburn off balance with its no-huddle brand of football designed to wear down a defense with a fast pace. Because Auburn doesn't huddle defensively that shouldn't be a major concern and the Tigers should be able to control the line of scrimmage against the smaller Catamounts. While this game may stay interesting in the early going, look for Auburn to even its record at 1-1 in the home opener.