We’ve been over the numbers. Western Carolina University has struggled of late. With two wins already this season, Elon University will head to the Maggie Valley favored to pick up No. 3. Let’s get straight to the keys to the game:
Elon Offensive X-factor: The “tight red zone”
A week ago, Elon moved the ball inside of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga’s five-yard line twice. Both times, the Phoenix failed to reach the end zone. If Elon’s three field goals were all touchdowns on Saturday, Elon would have won the game.
A week before, Elon had the ball inside Wofford College’s five-yard line with four chances to win the game in the final minute before being stopped and subsequently losing. This week, Elon needs to focus on finishing its drives.
Sophomore quarterback Troy Mitchell came into last year’s matchup against Elon with his team trailing 28-0 in the second quarter. Then a freshman, he nearly led the Catamounts all the way back before they fell 42-31.
Mitchell was “banged up” at the end of Western Carolina’s game against Wofford last week, but is expected to play on Saturday. With a full game against Elon this time around, an encore from Mitchell could end Western Carolina’s long losing streak.
LAST TIME OUT: Chattanooga tops Elon 20-9
Elon Defensive X-factor: Third downs
Just as we saw for offense, Elon’s key to the game is not a specific player, but rather a concept. Opponents are 46 of 108 on third down against Elon this year, a 42.6 percent success rate. Elon, by comparison, is only converting on 34.4 percent of third downs. If Elon’s defense can keep themselves off the field, it will give the offense more breathing room and help the defensive stay sharp throughout the entire game.
Western Carolina Defensive X-factor: Secondary
A year ago, Elon shredded the Western Carolina secondary to the tune of 412 passing yards. This year, the Catamounts have allowed 2,307 passing yards, over 1,200 more than they have gained themselves. Although Elon has run a more balanced offense this season, the Phoenix has used a “whatever is working” offensive philosophy. If Elon has success passing the ball early on, Western Carolina will continue to get a heavy dose of the passing game.
Last week against Chattanooga, Elon’s longest passing play was 37 yards on a short pass to junior wide reciever Kierre Brown on a busted play. Western Carolina could provide junior quarterback Mike Quinn with a banner day.
Elon finally gets over the hump this week and wins its second SoCon game this season, which would be one more than the Phoenix won last season. Look for the offense to get back on track in a win against the Catamounts.
Elon 48, Western Carolina 27