How to watch Mercer’s opener against Western Carolina, plus 3 keys to Bears’ success

Mercer football coach talks about upcoming season

In a Q & A with Bobby Lamb, the head coach for Mercer University's football team, Lamb talks about preparing for the upcoming season on Thursday, June 20, 2019.
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In a Q & A with Bobby Lamb, the head coach for Mercer University's football team, Lamb talks about preparing for the upcoming season on Thursday, June 20, 2019.

The Mercer Bears are set to go on the road at Western Carolina with kickoff at 6 p.m. on Saturday. The Bears will be looking to grab a key conference victory in their season opener.

The game will be televised in the Middle Georgia area on WMUB or channel 112 with Cox and on ESPN+.

Before the game starts, here are three keys that could help ensure a victory for Mercer.

1) Keep Robert Riddle protected

Robert Riddle will be making his first start for the Bears since breaking his collarbone last season as the result of a sack. The Bears’ hopes rest on the health of their starting quarterback. The team looked poised to make a run in the conference last season after knocking off a top 10 team in the country in Samford but the injury derailed those hopes.

The offensive line, led by Austin Sanders, will have to keep Riddle upright as much as possible. Mercer cannot afford to have Riddle take too many shots in this opening game as it could impact them for the rest of the season. It will be important to set the tone early in the year so that Riddle trusts his offensive line to give him time for the rest of the season.

Riddle can carve up a defense when he has a chance to survey down the field for an open receiver as we saw during his limited work last season.

2) Slow down Tyrie Adams

The stats that Western Carolina’s quarterback Tyrie Adams put up last season look as though they came straight from a video game. He completed 63% of his passes for 2,417 yards, 16 touchdowns while rushing for over 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns. He is one of the premier dual-threat quarterbacks in all of FCS football.

The Bears must do everything possible to force him to make mistakes. Against the Bears last season, Adams threw for 360 yards, 2 passing touchdowns plus added nearly 200 on the ground and a pair of touchdowns.

The Bears came away with the victory over the Catamounts 59-46 but going on the road in the opener could prove to be an equalizer for Mercer on offense. This puts more pressure on the defense to slow down Adams as it is almost impossible to completely shut him down.

The biggest key will be finding someone who can shadow his movements in the pocket and force him to throw the ball more often. Adams is more dangerous when he is on the run.

3) Closeout the game in the fourth quarter

This is arguably the largest cloud and biggest stat hanging over the Mercer football program: Of the 29 losses since 2014, the Bears have lost 19 of them by 10 points or lesst. Four of those other 10 losses came against Alabama, Auburn, Georgia Tech and Memphis.

It is possible that this game could come down to the final possession much like a lot of Mercer games have over the last few years. The Bears are very close to being Southern Conference title contenders but close losses have kept them on the cusp for the last few seasons.

This game will give Mercer a chance to make a statement early in the season: that this group knows how to finish games. If Mercer loses another close game, then it will have to make a lot of adjustments during the bye week. Generally, a season opener wouldn’t come with such high consequences but with it being a road game in a conference the stakes are much higher.

Justin Baxley is the fan life reporter at The Telegraph and writes stories centered around entertainment, food and sports in the Macon community. Justin joined the Telegraph staff after graduating from Mercer University in May 2017 with a degree in criminal justice and journalism. During his time at Mercer he served as the sports editor for The Cluster.