Carson-Newman vs. Tusculum has been music to the ears of the Orange and Blue for nearly a decade. The Pioneers haven't topped C-N since 2008. Carson-Newman's offense has been on a different level against TC over its current seven-game winning streak.
Carson-Newman has rolled up at least 450 yards on the ground in each of the last seven meetings. On top of that, nine 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 55 points per game on its current seven-game win streak over Tusculum.
That offensive efficiency was on display the last time the teams collided. C-N raced away with a 65-32 decision. The Eagles racked up 570 rushing yards, which were the fifth-most in Carson-Newman history while C-N tied the school record with eight touchdowns scored by way of the ground. De'Andre Thomas became the first Carson-Newman signal caller to rush for over 200 yards since Alex Good did so against Newberry in 2008. C-N complied 679 yards of total offense, which was also fifth-most in the Carson-Newman record books.
The Pioneers hope those defensive woes get solved with a new head coach. Jerry Odom takes over for Frankie DeBusk after the latter left the program in December.
The Merritt Island, Florida native served the last six seasons as the associate head coach at NCAA-FCS Jacksonville University where he was the chief architect of some of the best defensive units in the program's history. While at the Jacksonville, Florida school, Odom helped guide the Dolphins to 47-19 overall record, including a pair of 9-2 campaigns in his last two years at JU.
This past season, his defense led the nation for a second consecutive year with 20 interceptions, while also forcing 10 fumbles resulting in 30 turnovers gained, the third-best tally in the country. The Dolphins finished 2015 ranked 11th in team tackles for loss, 11th in team sacks (33), 12th in passing efficiency defense (104.7), 15th in scoring defense (19.1 ppg), 17th in red zone defense (68.4%), 23rd in total defense (326.2 ypg) and 23rd in rushing defense (127.4 ypg).
In 2014, Odom's defense led the country with 24 interceptions and was the Pioneer League statistical champion for scoring defense (17.5 ppg – 6th in NCAA-FCS), passing efficiency defense (98.9 – 3rd in NCAA-FCS) and turnovers gained (33 – 2nd in NCAA-FCS). The Dolphins were also nationally-ranked in total defense (334.5 ypg – 23rd in NCAA-FCS) and rushing defense (135.9 ypg – 19th in NCAA-FCS).
During his tenure at Jacksonville, 47 defensive players earned All-Conference recognition, including a Pioneer League-best 10 honorees in 2015.
Odom inherits a cupboard that is hardly bare. The Pioneers return seven starters on offense and eight on defense.
Luke Lancaster returns at quarterback to helm an offense that led the league aerially a year ago. Lancaster completed 58 percent of his passes for 3,167 yards last season. He hurled 21 touchdowns against 13 interceptions.
The downside for Lancaster is that his top two targets are among the four players the offense loses. The Pioneers must find a way to replace Ken Funnye and Justin Houston. Tusculum's top two receiving targets 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.
Lancaster still has talent to throw to though. 6-2, 190-pound flash Evan Altizer returns for his junior season after snagging 20 passes for 551 yards last year and a touchdown. He averaged 27.5 yards per catch.
The Pioneers also return their leading rusher in Isaac Robinson. He picked up 829 yards rushing on 155 carries a year ago, and reset the school's single-game rushing record against Brevard.
TC will also have to deal with the loss of 40 percent of its offensive line as Billy Munker and Max Gaubert graduate.
Defensively, the Pioneers lose two members of the defensive line, but leading tacklers Brandyn Bartlett and L'Keith Brown are back after making 94 and 83 stops, respectively.
Carson-Newman kicks off the season Sept. 1 at 1:30 p.m. on a Thursday against Humboldt State. The game will be broadcast on ESPN 3.