VIDEO: Ken Sparks Press Conference
VIDEO: Mars Hill Highlights
SAC Game Notes
L-R in already in some exclusive company. The Bears join Wingate (2010-12) and Elon (1980-82 & 1984-86) as the only teams to defeat a Ken Sparks-coached team on three consecutive occasions. L-R is the Eagles' only SAC opponent with a four-game win streak over a Sparks-coached club.
"We can't live in the past, we have to go with who we are right now," Sparks said. "This is a different year and a different team. Some of those players who have been through it know that we got beat on our mistakes towards the end of a few of those games, and so we just got to play the game."
Valdosta State and North Alabama also own three-game win streaks over the Eagles, but those streaks have not occurred in consecutive seasons. No team has ever owned a four-game win streak over a Ken Sparks-coached team in consecutive seasons; however, North Alabama won four in a row against the Eagles from games spanning from 1998-2009 before the Eagles defeated the Lions in the 2009 quarterfinal round off the playoffs 24-21.
The last team to win five-in-a-row against the Eagles was Elon. The Phoenix defeated the Eagles every year from 1973-78 before Carson-Newman broke through 36-10 in 1979. The Eagles withstood 36 carries and a record 252 yards rushing by Bobby Headrick to secure the win and snap a seven-game skid to Elon.
If the Eagles are to snap their losing streak and get this senior class its first win over L-R, they will have to do so against a brand new Bears' club. Under first year head coach Mike Kellar, the bears have swapped out the Bear Bone, which helped guide L-R to three straight NCAA Division II rushing titles, in favor of multiple sets largely run from the pistol.
"L-R is an interesting football team right now," Sparks said. "They looked really good against Tusculum, but not very good last week against Limestone. I don't know, they're in transition time, they got players, and they're capable. I know he's (Mike Kellar) a great football coach and has a great coaching staff, so it makes you really nervous. They'll give us a challenge because they're L-R, they've been a good football team and have beaten us four in a row. We need to play well against them."
With the switch in offense, the Bears have become more reliant on one potent back – Nelson Brown. The 5-10, 220-pound powerhouse has toted the rock 88 times for 459 yards this season.
Only two L-R players rushed for more yards in a single game than redshirt freshman running back Nelson did in a win against Tusculum in week three: Leonard Davis (344 yards vs. Gardner-Webb in 1993) and Tony Pope (292 yards vs. Wingate in 1999). Brown finished with 261 yards against the Pioneers. The 261 yards are the seventh highest total in all Division II this season.
Defensively, the Bears have been an improving unit. After giving up more than 445 yards in a season-opening loss to Virginia State, L-R has clamped down and limited its last three opponents to under 400 yards of total offense.
"I think it's the same thing anytime there is a coaching change," Sparks said. "There are a lot of adjustments in a lot of different areas, from communicating with the team, to how you approach the game preparation. It's a transition period where it will get better every week for them. The thing that concerns us is that, is this the week they get a whole lot better. We hope to line up and play our game and not worry too much about them. We've got to get ready to play."
If the Bears are to continue their defensive surge, they'll have to do so against what is arguably Mike Turner's most balanced and potent offense. The Noah Suber (Asheville, N.C.) helmed offense ranks third in the country in total offense at 566 yards per game. C-N is coming off a 672-yard performance against Mars Hill. Carson-Newman, Grand Valley State and Indiana (Pa.) are the only schools in the country to average 300 yards rushing per game and 200 yards passing per game.
The Eagles' rushing attack is averaging 323 yards per game, good for fourth nationally. Suber is doing things that no C-N quarter back has ever done. Suber is the first C-N signal caller in school history with four straight 200-yard passing games (208 HSU, 220 SAU, 236 CAT and 247 MHU).
With 911 yards this season, Suber has passed for more yards this year than 19 of Carson-Newman's last 43 starting QBs. He is on pace for the highest single-season passing total in Carson-Newman history. But still, Sparks see room for improvement in his QB, who is completing 53.8 percent of his passes this season.
"We're not throwing it for a high enough percentage," Sparks said. "We're dropping some passes, and running some wrong patterns. On Saturday, we got two completions off of missed execution, but that's not going to work. You're going to get what you work for and we've got to continue to improve in those areas. Hopefully we will improve, but we like our wide receivers, we think they are a talented group and we've got some speed there."
Lonnie Williams (Philadelphia, Pa.) is leading the Eagles' receiving corps with 251 yards off 15 catches. He has back-to-back 100-yard pass-catching performances.
Carson-Newman was last in the country in takeaways through the season's first three weeks, then the Eagles produced a four-interception day against Mars Hill. The four INTs are tied for second all-time for the program. Desmond Fairell (Miami, Fla.) snared two of them, becoming the first Eagle since Eien Jacob in 2013 against Newberry with a two-INT day. It is the 14th time since the year 2000 that an Eagle has had two picks in one game. Fairell joins Revel Coffey as the only freshmen since the year 2000 with two picks in one game.
The matchup features some brotherly battles. L-R all-conference offensive lineman Jacob Slagle is the younger brother of former Carson-Newman backup quarterback Toby Slagle. Furthermore, Carson-Newman redshirt-freshman quarterback Tyson Herron is the younger brother of first team All-SAC quarterback Major Herron who guided L-R to its first of four consecutive South Atlantic Conference championships.
This is Lenoir-Rhyne's first road game of the 2016 season. The Bears and UT Permian Basin are the only schools in the country in Division II to spend the entire month of September at home.
Kickoff between the Eagles and Bears is set for 1 p.m. Pregame coverage for the contest starts at noon with the AEC Tailgate Show on Joy 620 (WRJZ-AM, Knoxville), Mountain Country 106.3 (WPFT-FM, Sevierville) and online at cneagles.com/live.