VIDEO: Ken Sparks Press Conference
VIDEO: North Greenville Highlights
VIDEO: Tusculum Highlights 2015
The Eagles take on Tusculum (3-7, 2-4 SAC) Saturday with a 1:30 p.m. kickoff from Pioneer Field.
The Pioneers and Eagles first met in 1904. (The Tennessee/Vanderbilt series is the oldest by eight years - 1896). C-N leads the all-time series 34-10-2.
"It's really going to be an exciting game because it is two teams hungry for a victory," Carson-Newman head football coach Ken Sparks said. "Tusculum has now won two of their last three and is playing the way, I think Coach (Jerry) Odom wants them to play or get closer in that direction. I'll let someone else describe the way we are playing, but our kids haven't quit; so we have a chance and will continue to play hard and it will be a good ballgame."
Carson-Newman is guaranteed a losing record in the South Atlantic Conference for the first time since 2011 and the third since 1979. The Eagles have also been guaranteed their first losing season since 2011. The previous losing season before that was 1978. That was also the last year C-N had fewer than five wins (the Eagles went 2-8 that year)
Carson-Newman has won seven straight in the series, the longest win streak of the Eagles in the modern era and the second longest all-time. The Eagles won 10 straight contests from 1935-1950, missing a handful of years because of World War II. Carson-Newman outscored Tusculum 359-20 over that stretch. The Eagles shutout TC in eight of those meetings.
Of late, Carson-Newman has scored points in bunches against the Pioneers, a trend that could be in jeopardy given TC's resurgence on defense. The Eagles are averaging 55 points per game on the seven-game win streak over Tusculum. Carson-Newman has rolled up at least 450 yards on the ground in each of those last seven meetings. 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.
"He's (Jerry Odom) been the defensive coordinator for years so he is putting a lot of emphasis on defense," Sparks said. "They create a problem when you start three freshman offensive lineman that don't know who to block sometimes. They are not throwing the ball as much and they are relying more on the running game which has given us fits sometimes this year."
Tusculum's defense has only allowed 23.8 points per game and the pass defense, allowing 152 yards per game, is in the top 10 in the country. Only Lenoir-Rhyne and Newberry have scored more than 30 points on the Pioneers this season.
After a sluggish 1-6 start to the season, the Pioneers have won two of their last three games, including last week's 38-28 road win at defending SAC Champion Catawba.
Luke Lancaster passed for season-high 362 yards and three touchdowns, while Jay Boyd recorded his SAC-leading fifth interception of the season and had a 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to spark a 17-0 run for Tusculum.
In his last two-and-a-half games, Lancaster has passed for seven touchdowns with only one interception. He is averaging 276 passing yards per game while going 47-for-92 (.511). He has only been sacked twice in the 94 times he has dropped back to throw during that span.
However, for the season, Tusculum's signal caller is completing 44 percent of his passes and a quarter of his passing yards (1,113) have come in the last two weeks. He has eight touchdown passes against six interceptions.
Meanwhile, the Eagles' quarterback, Noah Suber (Asheville, N.C.) sits on the cusp of a handful of milestones. A 99-yard day and he'll have one of the 10 best passing seasons in Carson-Newman history. A 200-yard day through the air and Suber will rank in the top five with his record fifth, 200-yard passing performance of the season.
That is, if Suber has time to throw. The senior has been sacked 30 times this season. That figure is the most that the Eagles' veer-option has allowed since the year 2000. The previous high-water mark came in 2007 when the Eagles allowed 23 stuffs of the quarterback in passing situations behind the line of scrimmage.
On the ground, Carson-Newman tailback Antonio Wimbush would need a career-best 184-yard rushing performance against the Tusculum Pioneers to extend a Carson-Newman streak of 1,000-yard rushers. The Eagles have had someone top the 1k mark every year dating back to 2008. That season, Buck Wakefield led C-N with 921 yards on 112 carries.
Kickoff between the Eagles and Pioneers is set for 1:30 p.m. Saturday. Pregame coverage on the Eagle Sports Network starts at 12:30 with the AEC Tailgate Show on Joy 620 (WRJZ-AM, Knoxville) and online at cneagles.com/live.