VIDEO: C-N v. Newberry Highlights
JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – Carson-Newman (3-4, 2-3 South Atlantic Conference) football finds itself running up against one of the top defenses in the country when Wingate (6-1, 3-1 SAC) pays a visit to Burke-Tarr Stadium Saturday at 1 p.m.
The Bulldogs, who control their own destiny for a SAC title, tout a defense that ranks number one in the country in first down defense, second in total defense, fourth in defense touchdowns, fifth in pass defense and ninth in rush defense.
"Wingate is a really good football team," Carson-Newman associate head coach Mike Clowney said. "They pretty much dominated the football game against Lenoir-Rhyne last week. A very big and physical football team on both sides of the ball. We saw on the stat sheet to where they rushed for about 350 yards and had around 500 yards total. Our defense will have a good challenge ahead against a team that does a good job of mixing up the pass and the run. Offensively, we have a tough challenge ahead of trying to gel and continue to get better on the offensive line against a talented front from Wingate."
The Bulldogs allow 238 yards per game. Only Catawba (394) and Limestone (328) have gained more than 300 yards against Wingate. Brevard's 161 yards are the high water mark on the ground. Meanwhile, Johnson C. Smith (227) and Catawba (238) account for the only 200-yard passing performances against Wingate this year.
The Bulldogs have turned in four defensive touchdowns this season. Moryah Johnson took his SAC-leading fourth pick to the house last week against Lenoir-Rhyne. Cameron Mattison and Cornel Cheron brought INTs back 90 and 70 yards, respectively against Shaw. Cheron has another defensive touchdown off a fumble recovery against Catawba.
The Eagles hope their offense maintains care of the football and starts to move it again. Carson-Newman was sacked a school-record nine times and suffered 14 stops behind the line of scrimmage in last week's 34-19 loss to Newberry.
Carson-Newman has started five different combinations of offensive linemen this season. Even Austin Lewis (Ponte Vedra, Fla.) and Dan Gallman (Naples, Fla.), two All-America candidates on the offensive line haven't spent every week at their natural positions, right guard and left tackle, respectively.
"We haven't put out the same group of guys two weeks in-a-row," Clowney said of the offensive line. "The biggest thing for us it to have them challenge themselves and try to develop play better than they did last week. We may have to make some adjustments on how we protect. I know we put Noah [Suber] in the shotgun a couple of times last week to try and buy him a little bit more time to get the ball out of his hands."
Wingate ranks third in the SAC, averaging two sacks per game. The Bulldogs rank 73rd nationally for the category.
The Bulldogs defensive prowess has come against one of the easier schedules in the country. The Bulldogs have taken care of business against opposition that is collectively 13-36. The Bulldogs strength of schedule against past competition this season is 171 out of 172 teams in Division II. That's a winning percentage of .265 among the Bulldogs' opposition. Only Elizabeth City State ranks below the Bulldogs. Carson-Newman isn't much better. The Eagles rank 153rd on the list.
Carson-Newman has moved the ball successfully in years past against the Bulldogs. C-N has six, 400-yard rushing performances in the last 11 years. The Eagles have also dropped at least 40 points in 10 of the last 15 meetings. The Bulldogs have also allowed four of Carson-Newman's 35, 200-yard individual rushing performances. Only Tusculum has allowed more (five).
C-N quarterback Noah Suber (Asheville, N.C.) ranks sixth in the country for passing yards per completion, averaging 16.75 a catch. Aaron Seward (Charlotte, N.C.) has been the biggest beneficiary of that stat. The senior ranks 24th nationally with 20.06 yards a grab.
Running back Montavious Taylor (Atlanta, Ga.) has moved himself up to 15th in the country and first in the SAC for yards per carry with 6.76 yards per touch.
"When you go back and watch film from last week, you can point out a senior named Montavious Taylor," Clowney said. "His effort and want to is still there. There is no question. Jerry Miclisse has been consistent all year long about being in position to make plays. Those are the guys that are your leaders and that's the challenge to get those guys to raise their level and to give us everything they have to finish the season out the right way. I think they are doing that."
Miclisse and company will seek to shut down a Wingate offense that leads the SAC with 38 points per game. Senior quarterback Kyle Johnson is the steady hand that moves the rudder of the Bulldogs' boat.
"As time progresses, he has done a good job of taking what the defense has given him," Clowney said. "A lot of times he will set up to pass and there will be nothing there so he does a good job of escaping. They give him designed runs and he reads it so he does a good job of getting in the right position to make a play."
Johnson has plenty of talent around him. Running back Lawrence Pittman had inserted himself into the discussion for the Harlon Hill Trophy before sitting out the past couple weeks with an injury. Still, even with him sitting, Pittman ranks third in the country with 15 rushing touchdowns and ninth nationally with 131 yards per game.
In Pittman's absence, Blake Hayes has stepped into the void ably. He is second in the league with eight rushing touchdowns and sixth in the conference with 510 rushing yards.
"Both of them are big physical backs and their scheme fits them both well," Clowney said. "The good thing for us on that is that it doesn't really change the game plan. It's just a matter of getting our guys in the right place to make tackles."
Kickoff between the Eagles and Bulldogs is set for 1 p.m. Coverage of the game will be available on the Eagle Sports Network on Joy 620 (WRJZ-AM, Knoxville), Mountain Country 106.3 (WPFT-FM, Sevierville) and online at cneagles.com/live starting with the AEC Tailgate Show at noon.