JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. - This is the first in an 11-part series chronicling each of Carson-Newman football's opponents for the 2013 season. The Eagles open their season on a Thursday night for the second straight year. Instead of a WVIAC opponent, the GLIAC is represented as Wayne State invades Mossy Creek in week one.
Wayne State is two years removed from a trip to the Division II National Championship game and a runner-up finish to Pittsburg State. But much has changed for 10th-year Wayne State head man Paul Winters' Warriors.
Wayne State lost 21 seniors from that 2011 club and an additional 11 starters from last year's 5-5 team. That record should be taken with a grain of salt. The Warriors play an outrageously tough schedule as members of the GLIAC. They faced five teams last year that spent time ranked or receiving votes and went 2-3 against those teams.
Challenge number one on improving on that 5-5 mark is to find a signal caller to fill the shoes of 44-game starter and record-setting quarterback Mickey Mohner. Mohner owns the WSU records for completions, passing yards, passing touchdowns, passing efficiency rating, average yards per pass attempt and total offense per play.
While the Warriors' quarterbacking situation isn't set in stone, the rest of the skill positions are. Back are running backs Tony Davis and Desmond Martin, who combined for 1,336 yards on the ground and 14 touchdowns in the Warriors pro-style offense. Davis enters the year with 3,190 yards rushing and 44 touchdowns, third and second, respectively, in the WSU record books.
The Warriors also return an All-GLIAC pick at receiver in Dominique Maybanks, who snatched 36 passes for 411 yards to lead the team last year. However, WSU only returns two starters on the line in junior Thom Box at center and Ben Walker at tackle.
While the Warriors did have experience last year, the offense struggled in spots, averaging 315 yards a game (129 out of 156 Division II teams nationally). Despite low yardage numbers, WSU took spectacular care of the ball. The Warriors only turned it over 10 times last year, tops in the nation.
While the offense had moments where it faltered, the defense was particularly sound.
Wayne State ranked ninth in the nation in passing defense, allowing 165 yards per game. However, it's unlikely that comes into play against Carson-Newman's veer-option, which led the nation last year in yards per game on the ground at 378.
The Warriors were not as sound against the run, giving up 210 yards per game. Yet, the Warriors D should be much improved. WSU returns five starters including All-GLIAC picks Ed Viverette (LB), Gerren DuHart (CB) and Andrew Matt (DE). Viverette led the Warriors with 100 stops last year. Also back is third-leading tackler Steve O'Shell and Nores Fradi, who made 8.5 sacks during that 2011 run to the title game, but had to sit out much of last year with injuries.
Part of Wayne State's struggles last year stemmed from getting off and staying on the field. The Warriors only converted on 34 percent of their third downs (106th nationally) and were in the bottom ten in the nation in third down conversion defense (47 percent).
The one constant for the Warriors is Winters. He's Wayne State's all-time winningest head coach and has guided WSU to five consecutive non-losing seasons. He's built the Warriors into a perennial contender in the GLIAC after taking over a club that went a decade without a winning season.
Carson-Newman and Wayne State have faced off twice with the Eagles bringing home wins both times. C-N won 18-13 in Detroit on Sept. 3, 1994, and 21-0 on Aug. 31, 1995, in Jefferson City.
The Eagles and Warriors open the season Sept. 5 at 7 p.m.
The next installment of the Better Know an Opponent series features Colorado School of Mines and will be available Monday morning.