Western Carolina’s front seven is still feeling the bruises from the 2016 campaign.
The Catamounts defense was absolutely gashed all season by the run-heavy offenses in the Southern Conference. Time and time again, opponents found easy running lanes against this defense and exploited them to their advantage.
If Western Carolina wants to reach the playoffs for just the second time in school history, it needs to shore up a run defense that was dead-last in the NCAA in 2016.
2016 Western Carolina Football Season In Review
It’s a shame that the defense was so abominable last fall. Western Carolina had some really special offensive weapons whose performances were overshadowed by a defense that failed to get off the field.
Detrez Newsome was the Christian McCaffrey of the FCS. He led the division with 2,343 all-purpose yards and was named an FCS First-Team All-American. The junior could not be contained on the ground and was a fabulous kick returner. He averaged 6.6 yards per carry and scored two 90-yard touchdowns on the season. Without him, there would have been little reason to watch the Catamounts in 2016.
For a freshman, Tyrie Adams didn’t play badly at quarterback. He completed 63.5 percent of his passes for over 2,500 yards and was able to pick up yards on the ground, too. He was the beneficiary of some garbage-time yards, but he played decently before games got out of hand as well.
Terryon Robinson and Spearman Robinson saw essentially all of Adams’ passes last season. The former was the more consistent target with 71 catches for 738 yards, while the latter was the big-play threat with 49 catches for 799 yards.
2017 Western Carolina Football Season Preview
Newsome is back for one more season with the Catamounts and is going to be the focal point of the offense. He is undoubtedly the team’s best weapon and will likely see even more touches in 2017. He was only able to carry the ball 156 times last season and will get more rushes if the team can keep it close.
Don’t be surprised either to see head coach Mark Speir call more screens and flat routes for him to run. Newsome caught 31 passes out of the backfield last season and should be used in that manner even more now that Adams has another year of experience in this offense.
Adams was the only healthy quarterback on the roster for a good portion of last year so it wasn’t hard for the coaching staff to leave him on the field to let him learn from his mistakes. He has had another offseason to work out some kinks and should better early than he was in 2016.
Only one of the Robinsons return at wide receiver from last year. Spearman Robinson has moved on, but Terryon Robinson is back for one more season. He will again be Adams’ top target when he looks downfield.
Everything on offense is just a nice coat of paint provided the defense doesn’t show some massive improvement. It’s hard to understate just how bad the Catamounts were on defense last season—and that was when they were facing the two best rushing attacks in the conference at home. They have to travel to The Citadel and Wofford this year and will likely get trounced in both games.
2017 Western Carolina Football Schedule
September 2: Western Carolina at Hawaii
September 9: Western Carolina vs. Davidson
September 16: Western Carolina at Gardner-Webb
September 23: Western Carolina vs. Samford
September 30: Western Carolina at Chattanooga
October 7: Western Carolina at Wofford
October 14: Western Carolina vs. East Tennessee State
October 21: Western Carolina at VMI
October 28: Western Carolina vs. Furman
November 4: Western Carolina at The Citadel
November 11: Western Carolina vs. Mercer
November 18: Western Carolina at North Carolina
FCS Pick ‘Em Games To Watch
The goal for Western Carolina this season should be improvement. The Catamounts can put up points on just about any team—just look at what they did to South Carolina in the season finale last season. But stopping opponents is another story.
A three-game stretch in late October will give Western Carolina a chance to go on a winning streak. The Catamounts will face East Tennessee State, VMI and Furman in consecutive weeks and might be favored in all three. It’s entirely possible this team loses its first six, so Western Carolina might have some value in your FCS Pick ‘Em Contests then.