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WCU is still trying to get on track
Five words into Dennis Wagner’s opening comments Tuesday, the Western Carolina football coach’s line went dead.
His abrupt disappearance from the Southern Conference’s weekly media call was just the latest hiccup in what has, so far, been another rough season for Wagner and the Catamounts.
WCU (1-3, 0-2) has dropped two straight, ranks last in most of the league’s defensive categories and is still looking for its first win over a Division I FCS opponent.
Last week, Furman transformed three WCU turnovers into 21 points and shredded the Catamounts’ defense for 537 yards while cruising to a 47-21 victory in Cullowhee. WCU hosts Elon at 3 p.m. Saturday.
“Offensively, it’s just the turnovers,” Wagner said after calling back into the teleconference. “(On defense), we’ve not played as well as we need to. On the back end, we’re young and inexperienced. But now those guys have played four games. They’re not inexperienced anymore. They’ve got to get better. They’ve got to fit in their gap responsibilities and make tackles.”
With an average of 421.2 offensive yards per game, WCU ranks third in the league a year after finishing next to last (286.8 ypg) — but this year’s Cats are eighth among nine SoCon teams in turnover margin (-4).
Wagner said his staff is making some changes to try and shore up a defense that’s hemorrhaging 569.8 yards per game — 220 more than the league’s eighth-place defense (Appalachian State, 369.4 ypg) — but the fourth-year coach wouldn’t specify what those adjustments would be.
Homegrown Cat shines
One of the few brights spots Saturday for WCU was the play of receiver Josh Cockrell — a former Pisgah High standout.
At 5-8 and 170 pounds, he’s the Catamounts’ lightest starter — but also one of the most tenacious. He caught eight passes for a 118 yards and two touchdowns — all career-highs — against Furman.
However, he first started earning Wagner’s respect shortly after the coach arrived in 2008. Many of the Catamounts who were around at the time left the team for one reason or another, but the small receiver — who wasn‘t on scholarship at the time — did whatever it took to keep playing.
Cockrell’s now on full scholarship and ranks sixth in the league with an average of 4.2 receptions per game
“He’s a tough nut,” Wagner said. “We always tell him he’s like a gnat. He’s always around. As we speak, he’s in the office watching film with the receiver coach. He’s just a guy who loves to play football, loves to compete. He’ll be successful whatever he does because he’s such a hard worker.”
Written by Tyler Norris Goode, Citizen-Times