BY DUDLEY E. DAWSON
Western Carolina head coach Kerwin Bell is well aware of the challenges his team has facing it in Saturday’s season-opening contest against SEC foe Arkansas.
But while the former Florida and NFL quarterback acknowledges the size deficit his FCS Catamounts are giving up, he’s hopeful a few intangibles will allow his squad to compete at noon. inside Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium.
“I told our team the other day, after our last practice on Saturday before I let them off on Sunday, ‘look, we have got a big opponent – it’s Arkansas, it’s the SEC,” Bell said on his coach’s show Monday night. “But the reason those guys are there – they are not more talented.
“I really believe that because I recruit talented football players. They may be misfit children because they are 5-6 and 5-7, but we ain’t playing basketball, right?
“…That is why they (the Razorbacks) got recruited there because they have got these huge bodies, big kids and they are athletic. Athletically as far as covering people, throwing the football, I think we are going to do it as good as they can. I really do.
“Now the size is going to be a big difference. Can we use heart to make a difference? The heart, the grit, the desire and say ‘by God, you are bigger than me, but I am going to hit you all day and we will see where that plays out.’”
Western Carolina won its last three regular season games in the 2022 regular season to finish 6-5, a mark capped by a 32-29 home upset of Chattanooga.
Bell has transformed the roster with over 90 new player additions from what he found after being named the Catamounts head coach on April 27, 2021.
Oklahoma blasted visiting Western Carolina 76-0 in the second week of a 4-7 2021 season, but lost just 35-17 at Georgia Tech in last season’ second contest.
“Two years ago we played Oklahoma and then you look at us at Georgia Tech – and I know those are sort of two different programs – but we matched up real good up front with Georgia Tech and now it’s going to be an even bigger challenge.”
Bell respects the Arkansas duo of quarterback KJ Jackson and Rocket Sanders, both at least 240 pounds and a pair that combined for over 5,000 total yards offensively last season.
“We hope them two sprained their ankles, not too bad, but they are outstanding,” Bell said. “I mean…the number one tandem in the nation, and if not they are close. They are really good and do outstanding things. The quarterback can throw and run, a very talented kid, a big kid.
“And Rocket, I actually know his head coach from down in Florida. He is big back, 240 pounds and I think he had 1,400 yards in SEC football and that’s pretty impressive. You can’t get any better than that. So they are going to be two keys for us – how can we slow them down, how can we keep them from creating huge plays on that side of the ball.
“We have got to get them on the ground. We have got to find ways to tackle them.”
Bell is wary of Arkansas’ huge offensive line, one patterned in mold of Razorback head coach Sam Pittman.
“You know that Coach Pittman is going to have great offensive lineman,” Bell said, “ and that’s one thing…you say your are playing an SEC team, well, boy God there are like half of them I would rather play than them because they are probably one of the more physical teams in the SEC. That is how they make their living.
“Coach Pittman is going to ask that from his team and he is going to get that from them, the physicalness and that is going to be a wake up call for our guys. I understand that, but we are going to go down there and have some confidence.”
Bell, whose team set school records for total offense and touchdown passes lasts season, is interested in slowing the the game down.
“We are not going to go down there and try to run the clock, we are going to score points and play good defense,” Bell said. “We’ll see where we are and get back here and play Samford and try to win the home opener with a sold out crowd.”
Bell is also hopeful of limiting Arkansas’ amount of big plays.
“They struggled a little bit on defense last year, but they got a new coordinator and we know him pretty good,” Bell said. “He does a really good job and is aggressive, unpredictable a little bit. We have got to figure out the way we can just sort of get them on their heels.
“When you are playing a really good team that is bigger than you…we have got to make sure we don’t let them keep their toes in the ground like we to be. Play on the edge, lean forward and be aggressive. We have got to find a way to be aggressive with our offense and maybe create some doubt on their side.”