JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. - This is the sixth part in an 11-part series breaking down all of Carson-Newman football's opponents for the 2018 season. This analysis goes inside the Limestone Saints.
Carson-Newman's first matchup for the month of October is the Ierulli Bowl. What's an Ierulli Bowl? The name that was made up on the spot to describe this matchup against the Saints and their first-year head coach Tony Ierulli, who spent the last six years on Carson-Newman's staff as an assistant.
A mere 179 days after Ierulli was announced as the third head coach for the Saints as they head into their fifth year with a football program.
Ierulli even brings some Carson-Newman flair to his staff. Former Carson-Newman defensive end Coy DeWeese is a graduate assistant for the Saints.
Ierulli will be looking to improve upon the league's coaches' preseason prognostications. The conference's head coaches slated the Saints to finish for a tie for seventh with Mars Hill in the eight-team league.
"I believe that I have an advantage (as a first-year head coach in the conference) because I know the teams in the conference after coaching at C-N for the last six seasons," Ierulli said. "The biggest challenge will be the lack of a bye week against a touch schedule. But, we are looking forward to the year, and can't wait to get started."
Ierulli has a fair bit to work with too. While the Saints receiving corps gets decimated with the graduations of D'Anta Fleming, Vyncint Smith and Jumill Hornsby, SAC Freshman of the Year Jerko'ya Patton is back at running back.
Patton is the Saints leading returning rusher and receiver. He tallied 962 yards rushing a year ago with eight touchdowns. It's a little more unnerving that he is Limestone's leading receiver though. Patton snared 11 passes for 43 yards last year. Patton ranked fourth in the SAC with 90.7 rushing yards per game and sixth with eight rushing touchdowns.
He registered three 100-yard rushing performances in 2017 while setting the program's single-season rushing record. Patton's most memorable performance came against Tusculum last season as he rushed for 134 yards and two touchdowns, including a game-winning 40-yard touchdown run in overtime.
Patton will also have a seasoned offensive line blocking for him with three starters returning, including senior center Cody Meree.
The Saints lose "starter" Ivan Corbin at quarterback. However, that might not be a bad thing. Marshall transfer DJ Phillips started three games last year at quarterback for the Saints. Two of them were dandies.
Phillips got starting nods in the Saints final three games and immediately made an impact in a comeback win over Newberry. He tossed for a school-record 400 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Saints to a 27-24 comeback over the Wolves.
He topped that the next week with a 413-yard effort against Catawba. The only downside to Phillips performances was his efficiency. While he averaged 348 yards per game across his three starts, he only completed 48.8 percent of his passes and threw five picks against five touchdowns.
Phillips may be the most physically-imposing QB in the SAC at 6-7 and 235 pounds. Of course, how the Saints utilize him under Ierulli may change too.
"I believe what we are doing offensively and defensively will help us achieve our goals," Ierulli said. "Offensively, we will be using a tight end as part of our offensive scheme - previously, our offense was a four-wide formation. Defensively, I've always been a 4-3 defensive coach, and I believe the schemes that has been a part of my coaching background will fit well with our defensive personnel."
Ierulli has six starters back to work with defensively including a two-time All-American in Defensive back Josh Simmons.
A 2016 Cliff Harris Award finalist, Simmons makes his second career appearance on the preseason All-SAC team despite missing eight games due to injury last year. He posted four tackles and three pass breakups in two games against ETSU and Benedict.
He enjoyed a breakout season in 2016 when he led the nation with three interception returns for a touchdown while ranking second in NCAA Division II with eight picks. Simmons enters his final year in the Blue and Gold with 40 career passes defended, 13 interceptions, and four defensive touchdowns.
"Being a two-time All-American, Josh provides great leadership and experience to our defensive unit," Ierulli said. "He broke his foot during the second game of the season last year, and was giving a medical redshirt. His ability to cover the top receivers or give strong run support is a big advantage to us defensively."
The Saints bring back three starters on the defensive line, including All-SAC end Kelvin Atkins, but will have to replace their entire linebacker corps.
The Better Know the Opponent Series continues with week seven foe Mars Hill on Friday.