JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. - This is the first in an 11-part series breaking down each of Carson-Newman football's opponents for the 2016 season. This feature breaks down the Eagles' opener – a Sept. 1, Thursday afternoon date with the Humboldt State Lumberjacks on ESPN 3.
Carson-Newman breaks from tradition a touch with its opening contest of 2016. The Eagles will break a four-year string of Thursday night home openers to instead be the first NCAA football game in the country with a 1:30 kickoff against a Jacks club that ranked in the top 10 by the Sporting News.
If trends from 2015 continue to 2016, the points will come tumbling out of this one. Carson-Newman's 2015 team became the first in school history to score 60 on three occasions in one season. C-N touched 50 two more times. On the flip side, Humboldt State's offense topped 60 twice and 50 three more times.
The Jacks could potentially have the best returning player in the country. The key to the Jacks' attack last season was its running game, spearheaded by Harlon Hill Trophy runner-up Ja'Quan Gardner. The Ceres, Calif., product led NCAA Division II in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns and returns for his junior campaign.
Gardner racked up 188 yards on the ground per game while finding the end zone on 25 occasions. His top outing on the ground came against Azusa Pacific with 305 yards on 36 carries. Gardner packed in another five 200-yard performances. Only defending national champion Northwest Missouri State was able to bottle him up in the playoffs, keeping the junior to 24 yards on 14 carries – it was the only game of the season that Gardner neither cracked the 100-yard mark nor found the end zone.
However, Humboldt State is far from just Ja'Quan Gardner.
Another familiar face will guide the Jacks from under center. Robert Webber will open his junior season as HSU's top signal caller and will aim to improve on last year's success. He finished 2015 with 2,213 passing yards and 22 touchdown passes. He completed 61 percent of his tosses and was only picked off on seven occasions.
The 2016 season will be the last for receiver Chase Krivashei. The Corona, Calif., native earned GNAC Freshman of the Year honors following the Jacks' difficult 0-11 campaign. Sixty-two pass receptions are all that separate Krivashei and all-time leading receiving Dustin Creager in the record books, and by the time his career is over, he may hold several other HSU all-time records.
Defensively, the Jacks are sound as well.
Despite the graduation of many defensive playmakers, including Great Northwest Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year Dillon Huffman, several important pieces remain. Senior linebacker Cameron Buell leads a talented defensive core, but he is the only returning defensive starter that has been a member of the program for more than one season.
Buell aims to be the next in a line of players that have gone through the program at HSU and emerged as conference Defensive Player of the Year award winners. Alex Markarian (2014) and Huffman (2015) both paid their dues with the Green and Gold before being recognized as the GNAC's top defensive player.
The Better Know the Opponent series continues July 18 with St. Augustine's.