Thursday, July 22, 2021

2021 Football Preseason Preview: Mercer Bears

This preseason, Purple & Gold will preview all of Western Carolina's 2021 football opponents. This will be Homecoming Weekend in Cullowhee. 

In the Catamounts' sixth game of the 2021 fall season, the Cats host the Mercer Bears for the third conference game of the season. Western faces the Bears for just the eight-time since Mercer joined the Southern Conference.

Game #6 - The Mercer Bears

When: Saturday, October 9, 2021
Time:  3:30 pm
Where: EJ Whitmire Stadium, Cullowhee, NC
Radio: Catamount Sports Network
TV/video:  ESPN+
Live Stats:  WCU Live Stats
Fan Message BoardMU Bear Down

The Series: In only the 8th meeting between the two teams, the Cats own a 2-5 record against the Bears, having dropped the last five games played. The Cats are 1-2 against the Bears in games played in Cullowhee. After winning the first two games against Mercer, the Cats have dropped 5 straight against the Bears overall.  

Games that will be played by the Bears this season, before the WCU contest:  The Bears open the season at home against NAIA's Point University, followed by a trip to Alabama.  Then following a bye week, they visit Furman on the road, before hosting Samford in Macon.

Last Season's Game vs. Mercer (Mar. 20, 2021) - Catamount Football Falls at Mercer, 45-28 - Macon, Ga. – Donnavan Spencer rushed for 78 yards and three touchdowns for Western Carolina, but Mercer used a downhill running attack that chewed up 308 yards as the Bears held possession for over 40 minutes on Saturday afternoon in a 45-28 victory over the Catamounts in Southern Conference action at Five Star Stadium.

Last Season's Record (Mercer): 5-6 overall, 2-4 home, 1-5 away, 5-3 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's Collegiate Record: 52-12 (.813) 
Mercer Record:  5-6 (.455)

Kerwin Bell's record vs. Mercer:  0 - 0
Drew Cronic's record vs. WCU:  1 - 0

Mercer Offensive Formation:  Multiple (Spread Wing)
Defensive Formation:  Multiple

Mercer Starters Returning/Lost 
Offense:  8 / 3
Defense: 9  /2
Total:  17 / 5

Key departures: OL Connor Krieger, RB Nakendrick Clark, LB Alvin Ward, Jr., LB Jordan Williams, DB Harrison Poole

Offense: 14
Defense: 16
Total:  30

Last season's "SoCon Freshman of the Year" quarterback Carter Peevy returns. He finished second in the conference in passing yards with 1,318 and third in completion percentage (54.3 percent), passing efficiency (133.0), and touchdowns (8). Peevy also tied with running back Deondre Johnson for the team-lead in rushing touchdowns with four. However, junior QB transfer Fred Payton from Coastal Carolina may successfully challenge the freshman Peevy for the starting quarterback job.  

Wide receivers Ty James and Ethan Dirrim, both sophomores in 2021 and were named by the coaches of the SoCon to the All-Freshman Team return. James led the team in both receptions (30) and receiving yards (518) while Dirrim led the Bears in receiving touchdowns with four. 

On defense, Mercer returns several key players highlighted by junior safety Lance Wise. Wise picked up 86 tackles in 2020, including 43 solo tackles. He also led the SoCon in pass breakups with nine and made one interception. He was named First-Team SoCon by both the media and the league's coaches.  In the trenches, then-sophomore defensive lineman Solomon Zubairu was a leader on the Bears' defense. Zubairu led the SoCon in tackles for loss with 10.5 — the second-most in a single season in Mercer program history. He was also third in the conference in sacks with 5.5 and recovered two fumbles.

2021 Mercer Statistics (Spring 11 games):
Rushing Offense: 1844 yards
Yards per game: 167.6
Yards per rush: 3.8 yards
Rushing 1st downs: 104
TDs rushing: 20
Passing Offense: 1819 yards or 165.4 yards per game
Avg. per pass: 7.5 yards
Passing 1st downs: 74
Passing: Comp-Att-Int: 136-244-8
TDs Passing: 12
Total Offense: 3663 yards or 333 yards per game
Fumbles-Lost: 18-9
3d Down Conversions: 65 of 161 (40%)
4th Down Conversions: 5 of 13 (38%)
Field goal attempts: 5 of 10
On-side kicks: 0-0
Red Zone Scores: 28 of 35  (80%
Red Zone Touchdowns: 25 of 35  (71%)
PAT:  34 of 35  (97%)

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