JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – This is the ninth part in an 11-part series breaking down all of Carson-Newman football's opponents for the 2018 season. Week nine sends Carosn-Newman into the annual resumption of the second oldest rivalry game in Tennessee with a showdown with Tusculum.
Talk to coaches around the South Atlantic Conference, and they have reason to believe that Tusculum might just be the league's most improved team in 2018.
The Pioneers were picked fifth in the league's preseason coaches poll, but did garner a first place vote after returning seven starters on both offense and defense.
"I do think we will be better as long as we stay healthy," Tusculum head coach Jerry Odom said. "We have four guys in the OL that started for us back, two viable QB's, three RB's I like. At wide receiver, we will be young but we have a grad transfer from Jacksonville in Brian Burnett and a Juco guy Kefa Cort that we really like. I expect to make a jump there."
Those wide receivers should be key for the Pioneers. Tusculum loses out on SAC President's Award Winner Evan Altizer, Evan Gates and Rodnell Cruell at the position. Offensive lineman Kory Gillam also goes by the wayside. However, everyone else is back.
The Pioneers have a more than capable quarterback in 6-4, 230-pound senior Alex Ogle. A second team All-SAC selection in the preseason, Ogle started all 10 games under center last season, passing for 2,056 yards and 14 touchdowns. Ogle completed 56.3 percent of his passes with only seven interceptions. He was named the AstroTurf/SAC Offensive Player of the Week on two occasions in 2017.
Ogle should be able to remain upright this season after getting sacked 34 times last year. Four starters return on the line, and that remained a recruiting focal point for Odom. The headliner of the group is Keveon Broadwater. Broadwater, a 6-4, 300-pound junior from Gaffney, South Carolina, returns to the Preseason All-Conference team for a second straight year. He started in all 10 games last season and graded out at 84 percent on the year on the offensive line.
They'll block for some experience running backs, including All-SAC second teamer Maxwell Joseph. Joseph, a 6-2, 230-pound junior from Naples, Florida, led the Pioneers in scoring with 54 points as he ran for nine touchdowns. He finished the season with 551 yards on 128 carries for a 4.3 yards per rush average. His nine rushing TDs were fifth in the league last season.
Jordan Shippy also has starting experience at the position. He tallied 211 yards rushing last year, but didn't find the end zone.
The Pioneers will also be able to line up Jay Boyd on special teams. He finished third in the league in kickoff returns averaging 24.7 yards per return. His 664 combined total return yards were most in the league and ranked 31st in NCAA Division II. The 2016 SAC Defensive Freshman of the Year finished his sophomore season with 58 tackles, including two tackles for loss, one forced fumble and six passes defended including a pair of interceptions. In his rookie season, he led the SAC with five interceptions and finished with 44 tackles to earn All-America honors.
Boyd is one of a pair of All-SAC players in the defensive secondary, along with Dee Alford. Alford recorded 44 tackles including three for loss and led the conference with his three fumble recoveries which were eighth in the nation. He was tied for the team lead with three interceptions which were fourth in the SAC. He also posted seven passes defended and forced a fumble and tallied one sack.
They helped Tusculum wreak havoc on opposing offense. Tusculum had four defensive touchdowns last year (including one against Carson-Newman) to lead the league and rank 15th in the county.
The Better Know The Opponent series charges into week 10 Thursday with a look at Lenoir-Rhyne.