JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. - This is the fourth part in an 11-part series breaking down all of Carson-Newman football's opponents for the 2018 season. This feature has analysis of a trip to Newberry and Setzer Field, where the Eagles have won just once since 2006.
Carson-Newman's trips to the Graveyard haven't exactly been pleasant over the last 12 years. The Eagles lone win was a 2010 trek that C-N pulled out 35-12. The Wolves have won handily three straight times, winning 47-22, 46-21 and 34-19 the last three times the teams have gotten together in the Palmetto State.
The Wolves have won back-to-back games in the series for the first time since 1987-88 and will be angling for their first three-game winning streak over Carson-Newman in the 53-game series history between the two teams.
Newberry comes in to 2018 off a 5-6 campaign; it was picked fourth in the preseason SAC poll. The Wolves had a duality to their season last year. They reeled off four straight wins (including a 25-21 triumph over the Eagles in Burke-Tarr) before dropping four straight. Newberry closed the season on a high note with a 28-0 shutout on senior day against Mars Hill in spite of not playing the game with a true QB.
Part of the Wolves woes down the stretch last year came with issues under center. Nick Jones and Greg Ruff split the majority of time under center for Newberry; however, Sumner Cooler and Darius Clark also saw significant playing time at the position as well.
Nick Jones threw the bulk of the passes, completing 77-of-152 for 956 yards and eight scores. The downside to Jones 2017 was seven interceptions.
Meanwhile, Ruff tossed 63 fewer passes than Jones, scored 11 touchdowns and didn't throw a pick. Ruff was more of a run-first option. He was Newberry's second-leading rusher in 2017, accounting for 446 yards and three scores.
The Wolves return five other starters offensively around Ruff and Jones, or whoever beats those two out for the starting QB job, but at least early, Newberry head coach Todd Knight indicated it belongs to Ruff.
"Right now going into practice we've got Greg Ruff penciled in," Knight said. "He had a great spring and didn't throw a pick last year. We've also been really pleased with Dre Harris. He's a guy we put on the shelf and redshirted but we think he's a really talented kid."
Of course the quarterback might only have an impact in that he's the guy who hands the ball off. Knight has leading rusher and preseason All-SAC second teamer Austin Barnes back after a 494-yard, seven-touchdown year.
Knight said the talent the Wolves have at running back combined with a new offensive coordinator could result in a new focus on the ground game.
"With a new offensive coordinator in Todd Varn, I really like what I've seen coming out of the spring where we were pounding the rock and really establishing the run and sticking to it," Knight said. "That was opening up things for us offensively. I think we've also got a great combination of power and speed at the running back spot. We've got two big kids in Austin Barnes and Trez Cook, and then we've got a lot of speed with guys like Voshon St. Hill and Chance Walker."
When the Wolves do go to the air, they've got a stud to throw to in Markell Castle, who caught the game-winning touchdown against the Eagles last year with under a minute to play.
A two-time all-SAC selection, including a first-team nod in 2016, the senior from York caught 39 passes for 756 yards and a career-high nine touchdowns last season. Castle was twice named AstroTurf SAC Offensive Player of the Week, had four 100-yard games last season, and ranked 15th nationally in yards per catch at 19.38.
Thirty-one of his 39 catches went for first downs or touchdowns, including all 12 of his receptions on third downs. Castle is third in school history in 100-yard games (9), fourth in touchdowns (17), seventh in yardage (1,757), and 10th in receptions (110) entering into his final year of eligibility.
The Wolves do lose two starters on the offensive line first team All-SAC center Dakota Mozingo and right guard Austin Turner. Also gone is versatile tight end Baptiste Staggers.
Defensively, the Wolves return seven starters and a sextet of all-conference performers. The Wolves do get decimated at linebacker with the loss of Will Elm, Anfernee Moffett and Rameak Smith. However, their best linebacker returns in Joe Blue.
The All-SAC first teamer was named first team all-SAC for the second consecutive year after leading the team and finishing fifth in the league with 83 tackles. Known for seemingly always being around the ball, the senior from Dillon and Order of the Gray Stripe member totaled 10.5 tackles for loss, five quarterback hurries, two pass breakups, two fumble recoveries, and a forced fumble in 2017. He had 10 or more tackles on three occasions, including a career-high 14 against Tusculum last year.
In front of Blue will be a terror of a defensive lineman in Jamarcus Henderson. A senior defensive end from Union, Henderson has wreaked havoc on opposing offenses all season long in 2017. His 7.5 sacks, which ranked second in the league, accounted for 50 yards lost by the opposition and contributed to his 13 overall tackles for loss. He ranks fourth in school history in career sacks with 20.5 throughout his three-year career. Henderson landed on the all-SAC first team and all-region second team in 2017. He finished second on the team with 59 tackles, had six quarterback hurries, and forced a fumble. He had at least half of a tackle for loss in every game last year and had multiple sacks on three occasions. He was a first-team all-SAC performer for the second time in his career and was a second team All-American two seasons ago.
"In my opinion, Joe Blue is one of, if not the best, inside linebacker in the league," Knight said. "Jamarcus Henderson at defensive end is pound-for-pound as good of a pass rusher as you'll see in this league. If he was 6-4 he'd probably be at Clemson, but he's 5-4 so he's at Newberry."
Jawanza Adams leads the secondary after starting 11 games as Newberry's safety (The Wolves run a 4-4 with only three DBs). The senior from Piedmont earned a second team all-SAC nod by finishing third on the team with 54 tackles, tied for the team lead with three interceptions, and finished the year with six passes defended. Adams surpassed six tackles on five occasions, had three tackles for loss, and had one quarterback hurry.
The Better Know the Opponent Series continues with week five foe Catawba on Monday.