Mercer’s defense set for clash with Western Carolina’s offense

Mercer linebacker LeMarkus Bailey (16) upends Jacksonville running back Irvin Riley (22) behind the one of scrimmage during their game earlier this season.
Mercer linebacker LeMarkus Bailey (16) upends Jacksonville running back Irvin Riley (22) behind the one of scrimmage during their game earlier this season.

In football, a game’s momentum can change with a turnover. It’s something that Mercer has excelled at this year as the Bears lead the SoCon in turnover margin with a plus-nine.

Mercer will need more of the same Saturday at Western Carolina (7-3 overall, 5-2 in SoCon) as the Bears (3.4, 4-5) close out their SoCon schedule against the Catamounts on the road. The Bears close out the season next Saturday at Alabama.

Mercer’s defense, which forced four turnovers last week against Samford, has the task of slowing down the conference’s top offense. WCU leads the SoCon in both total yards (448) and scoring offense (34.6 points per game). At the very heart of what the Catamounts do are two talented offensive weapons - running back Detrez Newsome and quarterback Tyrie Adams.

Both have collected conference offensive player of the week honor twice this season.

“We have two more games (to prove ourselves),” Mercer linebacker Will Coneway said. “Western Carolina has a great offense, a great quarterback, a great running back. It will always be a challenge to play a team like that but it is another opportunity to play the game with the brothers I love.”

Newsome is rushing towards history, needing just 67 yards to become the first player in Western Carolina history to have three seasons with at least 1,000 rushing yards.

And then there’s Adams. He has passed for 1,847 yards and 18 touchdowns and has also kept opposing defenses honest with his feet, rushing for 642 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

Adams returned from an injury suffered in the first half of a loss on Oct. 28 to Furman during last week’s game against The Citadel - he threw for 133 yards and three touchdowns in his return to action.

“We’ve got to get ourselves up off the mat and go to Western Carolina and play a very powerful offense. It’ll be a tremendous challenge for our defense,” Mercer head coach Bobby Lamb said. “(Western Carolina head coach) Mark Speir has done a great job of reviving that program. It all starts with quarterback, Tyrie Adams. He’s the most dangerous quarterback in the league because of his ability to run and throw. Detrez Newsome is a really good running back; probably the best (professional) prospect coming out of the Southern Conference this year.”

The Bears eagerly await the opportunity for another big performance on their side of the ball a week after limiting Samford to just 16 offensive points.

Mercer also leads the SoCon in total defense with a 19 points per game average.

“What they do on a weekly basis is very impressive. I said this after Saturday’s game: what we have to do now moving forward is play for pride and for the love of the game,” Lamb said. “We’re playing for another opportunity…we have two opportunities to play the game of football this season. I know our defense will show up and look for a challenge against a (Western Carolina) offense that is averaging about 440 yards per game.”

Brad Harrison, 478-201-7125, @bradeharrison