The Eagles (4-5. 2-3 SAC) need a victory to avoid being the only team of the Ken Sparks' era to post a losing record. Additionally, Sparks is just two wins shy of reaching 300 for his career, something only 11 men have done before him. The 32-year veteran coach must win out this season, first against the Pioneers, then in the season ender at Mars Hill (7-2, 5-1 SAC) to reach that milestone this season.
The Pioneers (2-7, 1-4 SAC) have been reeling since the third week of the season since losing All-American quarterback Bo Cordell to a broken foot. After rising up the depth charter over back-up redshirt freshman Kyle Dickey, sophomore Torrey Slavin took command of the high-powered Pioneers offense and is running it in high gear. Slavin has thrown for 1,478 yards and 12 touchdowns in just five appearances and two starts.
"They're putting up points," Sparks said. "Last week against Mars Hill they mixed the run and pass effectively. Slaven has not thrown an interception yet. That speaks a lot for itself, throwing it as many times as he has. They've got a great receiving corps and they're a very tough team to line up against."
Tusculum's receiving corps is led by two of the best in the country, seniors Deonte Gist and Rashaad Carter. Gist is ranked ninth in country in yards per game (106.9) and 13th in receiving yards (849). Carter is 24th in yards per game (87) and 21st in receiving yardage (782). In addition, Gist is one of the best kick returners in the nation, scoring two touchdowns and averaging almost 31 yards per return.
"They're the fastest team we've seen this year," Sparks said. "They've got people that can run."
Carson-Newman enters the game coming off an emotional 27-24 last-second win over Brevard. They'll need that energy in this game. Two of the last three match ups with the Pioneers have come down to the last play of the game. In 2008 the Pioneers blocked an extra point, then recovered the C-N onside kick to win the game. Last year Tusculum's field goal attempt at the buzzer bounced off the left upright.
The game will be a contrast in styles as the Eagles boast the No. 6-ranked rushing offense in the country and the Pioneers field the No. 7 passing offense. Senior running back Nate Inman (Fitzgerald, Ga.) and sophomore Tyron Douglas (Clover, S.C.) lead Carson-Newman's attack. Inman has rolled up 716 yards and seven touchdowns this season. Douglas has 635 yards and 10 touchdowns.
C-N's quarterback depth chart will get a boost this week with the return of sophomore Johnny Foster (Roebuck, S.C.). Foster started five games for Carson-Newman this season and led a come from behind victory in the season opener at Glenville State. Foster will be the No. 2 QB this week behind junior Brandon Haywood, who took over after Foster went down with a twisted ankle against Wingate on Oct. 1.
Senior defensive end Zeke Andrews leads the Eagles defense. Andrews is one of the top defensive lineman in the nation with 6.5 sacks (No. 39) and 15 tackles for a loss (No. 21). Andrews is second on the team in tackles with 41. Junior linebacker Larry Lumpkin leads the team with 74 tackles with 6.5 coming for a loss.
Tusculum linebacker Brian Alexander leads the Pioneers with 77 tackles, with 10 for a loss and two sacks. Terrence Smith has five sacks this season with seven tackles for a loss and 43 total tackles.