Friday, June 19, 2020

2020 Football Preseason Preview: Mercer Bears

Throughout this preseason, Purple & Gold will preview all of Western Carolina's 2020 football opponents.

In the Catamounts' second game of the 2020 season, the Cats travel to Macon, Ga to once again open the SoCon football season with the  Mercer Bears. This is also the first Southern Conference contest of the season for the Bears.

Western faces the Bears for just the seventh time since Mercer joined the Southern Conference.

Game #2 - The Mercer Bears

When: Saturday, September 12 at  TBA
Where: Five Star Stadium, Macon, GA
Radio: Catamount Sports Network
TV/video: TBA

The Series: In only the 7th meeting between the two teams, the Cats own a 2-4 record against the Bears, having dropped the last four games played. Western will be the season-opening home game for the Bears, as well as the Southern Conference opening for both teams for the second consecutive season

Games that will be played by the Bears this season before the WCU contest: 1 - The Bears travel to Nashville, TN to face Vanderbilt on opening day, September 5th.

Last Season's Game vs. Mercer (Aug. 31, 2019) - Big Plays, Missed Opportunities Doom WCU in 49-27 Loss - Cullowhee, N.C. - Big plays turned in by Mercer and missed opportunities by the Catamounts including a pair of turnovers spoiled an otherwise festive afternoon at E.J. Whitmire Stadium / Bob Waters Field as the Bears handed Western Carolina a 49-27 loss in both the 2019 season and Southern Conference opener.

Last Season's Record (Mercer): 4-8 overall, 2-4 home, 2-4 away, 3-5 SoCon  (SoCon wins: WCU, VMI, Samford)

Head Coach: Drew Cronic was named the 20th head football coach in Mercer University history on December 10, 2019. He spent the previous two seasons as the head coach at Division II Lenoir-Rhyne University in Hickory, N.C. A native of Sharpsburg, Ga., Cronic is considered one of the more innovative offensive minds across all levels of college football. Driven by the motto “Raise the Bar”, he has posted a 47-6 record in four years as a head coach. He has also helped lead his teams to four straight conference titles – Reinhardt (2016), Furman (2017) and Lenoir-Rhyne (2018, 2019). Cronic engineered one of the most impressive turnarounds in college football, taking Lenoir-Rhyne from a 3-8 season in 2017 to a 25-3 record under his guidance the past two seasons. After being named the AFCA National Coach of the Year for the 2018 season, he led the Bears to a school record-tying 13 wins in 2019 and a second consecutive berth in the NCAA Quarterfinals.

Offensive Formation: Wing T
- 2019 offense:  26.9 ppg. (61th in FCS)
Defensive Formation: Multiple
- 2019 defense:  35.4 ppg. (106th in FCS)
Starters Returning/Lost: 12 /  10
Offensive starters - Returning/Lost: 6 / 5
Defensive starters - Returning/Lost: 6 / 5

Last season's weakness for the Bears, like for the Cats, was on the defensive side of the ball. Mercer is coming off a 2019 season in which the Bears went 4-8, scoring 323 points on offense (26.9 points per game — pretty good!) but allowing 425 points (35.4 ppg — not good!).  We don't know the status of quarterback Robert Riddle who had a season-ending injury in game 7 last season. If Riddle is able to return, that would give the Bears 7 returning starters.

Of course, we know that Mercer replaced head coach Bobby Lamb with Drew Cronic who had two impressive seasons at Lenoir-Rhyne. Cronic went 25-3 in two years at Lenoir-Rhyne. So, Mercer just hired a guy with a 47-6 career record, he took over a Lenoir-Rhyne squad that went 3-8 the year before he was hired, then went 12-2 and 13-1 in two years.  Impressive.

2019 Mercer Statistics:
Rushing Offense: 1951 yards
Yards per game: 142.3
Yards per rush: 4.2 yards
Rushing 1st downs: 84
TDs rushing: 17
Passing Offense: 2599 yards or 217 yards per game
Avg. per pass: 6.6 yards
Passing 1st downs: 123
Passing: Att-Comp-Int: 395-221-8-17
TDs Passing: 22
Total Offense: 4306 yards or 358.8 yards per game
Fumbles-Lost: 14-7
3d Down Conversions: 38,6%
4th Down Conversions: 50%
Field goal attempts: 17-13
On-side kicks: 0-1
Red Zone Scores: 38 of 45
Red Zone Touchdowns: 27 of 45

Game prediction: Per the Massey Ratings, the Cats have only a 31% probability of winning (28-35) over the Bears.


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