VIDEO: Ken Sparks Press Conference
The Eagles are ranked fourth in the latest region rankings and a win would almost assuredly cinch up a playoff spot for the program for the third time in four years.
However, C-N head coach Ken Sparks knows the Eagles can't underestimate the Pioneers.
"Tusculum is a team that is probably better than their record. They got beat in a triple-overtime game against Lenoir-Rhyne," Carson-Newman head coach Sparks said. "They had some other close games. They are a very capable team that is more balanced on offense than they ever have been.
"They have a 100-yard rusher and a three hundred-yard passer. They have very, very talented skill people. They have two wide receivers that are breaking school records—they have had some school records and maybe an NCAA record with two receivers on the same team with the yardage that they've got and the number of catches that they've got. They are a very capable football team."
The Pioneers are led by sophomore quarterback Luke Lancaster. The Gaffeny, S.C. is completing 58 percent of his passes and averaging 289 yards through the air a game. Lancaster has 20 touchdowns against 13 interceptions.
He has a pair of formidable targets too in Justin Houston (31-3105) and Ken Funnye (174-1948).
Tusculum's top two receiving targets have combined for 5,053 receiving yards, 484 receptions and 37 touchdowns in their careers.
The 484 career catches are the most by two receivers from the same team in NCAA Division II history. Houston is second in the nation in receptions, averaging 9.4 per contest. Two weeks ago, he made a season-high 16 catches against Mars Hill, the second most in TC history and one behind school-record 17-catch performance he had last year against North Greenville.
"I don't think that anyone has shut him down because of the patterns they run with him," Sparks said. "They are going to get the ball into his hands somehow. It might be a two-yard crossing pattern, but they are going to get the ball into his hands. The main thing for us is, if he was the only one it would be one thing but they have four that can catch and run. We have to make tackles. In zone coverage, we have to make tackles and make sure that there isn't any yards after the catch or limit those yards. The second thing we have to do is in man coverage to figure out ways that we don't get picked and that we are able to cover them. Both of those are tough assignments."
Against Lenoir-Rhyne, the Bradley Central High School graduate posted 155 receiving yards and a career-best three touchdown catches.
Houston was a particular thorn in the Eagles' side two years ago when he snagged 10 passes for 162 yards at Burke-Tarr Stadium. He had two touchdowns in last year's game.
Funnye is second in the conference in receiving yards per game, averaging 89.8 ypg, which is 24th in the country. In the season-opener at UVa-Wise, he established a new school single-game record with his 232 receiving yards. He added 182 yards on 13 catches against Lenoir-Rhyne.
Defensively, the Pioneers are giving up 251 yards on the ground. Normally, that would have the opposition licking its chops against a team that is potentially weak defending the rush.
However, the SAC has transformed itself into one of the nation's premier rushing conferences. Six of the eight teams in the league average at least 180 yards rushing a game. Then there's the fact that Lenoir-Rhyne, Carson-Newman, Newberry and Catawba are all in the top 35 nationally with more than 200 yards rushing per game.
Also then take into account that five of the league's eight teams give up at least 200 rushing yards per contest. The league's top rush defense Newberry gives up 177 yards per game, which is just barely in the top half of the national rankings for all Division II.
Still Carson-Newman has had plenty of success on the ground against Tusculum. Carson-Newman has rolled up at least 450 yards on the ground in each of the last six meetings. On top of that, seven individuals have rushed for at least 170 yards over that same span, topping out with Buck Wakefield's school record 332 yards in 2009.
The boatload of rushing yards has led to beaucoup points. Of late, Carson-Newman has scored points in bunches against the Pioneers. The Eagles are averaging 53.3 points per game on its current six-game win streak over Tusculum.
Damian Baker (Columbus, Miss.) is second in the conference with 1,152 rushing yards, a figure that ranks 16th in Carson-Newman's single season annals. Baker leads the league with 16 rushing touchdowns (10th all-time for a single season at C-N).
Baker and 17 other Eagles will be playing in their final regular season games at Burke-Tarr Stadium.
"It's not senior day as far as we are concerned, its senior week," Sparks said. "We do a whole lot of things to celebrate our seniors and to have a good time all week. We started that yesterday and it will be fun. It's always fun to see what the Lord has done in some guys when they got here and all the things that have happen to them in the last four years."
Tusculum hasn't defeated Carson-Newman in Jeff City in 81 years. The Pioneers last win at Mossy Creek came in 1934 3-0. Following that win, the Eagles proceeded to win 10 straight in the series by a combined score of 359-20 over that stretch. The Eagles shutout TC in eight of those meetings.
The Pioneers will also be looking for a road win over a ranked team, something that's been a bit of a rarity for TC. The Pioneers snapped an eight-game losing streak to ranked foes earlier this year by beating then No. 23 Wingate 26-17 at Pioneer Field. However, Tusculum hasn't secured a road win over ranked competition in 14 tries. Tusculum's last win against a ranked foe on the road came on Aug. 30, 2001 when the Pioneers upset ninth-ranked Morehead State 34-27.
Tusculum's only win at a ranked Division II foe came in 1998 when the Pioneers beat then 16th-ranked Catawba 23-21 in Salisbury.
Kickoff between the Eagles and Pioneers is scheduled for 1 p.m. Pregame coverage on the Eagle Sports Network starts at noon with the AEC Tailgate Show on Joy 620 (WRJZ-AM, Knoxville) and online at cneagles.com/live.
Dominos' Jefferson City is giving one lucky student the chance to win a year's supply of free pizza by kicking a 30-yard field goal at halftime of the game.