JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. - This is the 10th part in an 11-part series breaking down all of Carson-Newman football's opponents for the 2018 season. Week 10 concludes the home schedule for the Eagles and a stretch of five straight games in the state of Tennessee when Lenoir-Rhyne pays a visit to Mossy Creek.
Carson-Newman finally got the monkey off its back when it downed Lenoir-Rhyne 42-28 last season at Moretz Stadium. Carson-Newman snapped a five-game losing streak to Lenoir-Rhyne, beating the Bears for the first time since 2012. The win in Hickory was Carson-Newman's first since 2009.
Now, the Eagles will be looking for their first win over Lenoir-Rhyne at home since knocking the Bears out of the playoffs in 2012.
They'll be going up against a new head and a new style when they do. Lenoir-Rhyne brought in Drew Cronic in December to replace Mike Kellar after two years.
Kellar took the Bears away from the flexbone triple option that took them to a trio of playoff appearances and a national title game appearance in 2013 under now James Madison head coach Mike Houston. Kellar utilized an air raid-style passing attack. Now Cronic appears to have the Bears headed back in the direction of the triple option.
"We will be a little different," Cronic said. "There's going to be some elements of some wings and motion so it'll be a little different than has been in this league before. We want to be able to run the football and be efficient in the pass game. We want to have a physical style and get to the point where we can wear people down and use some tempo. You have to have an identity and we feel like we have one and our kids have bought into that. There's kids here that fit into what we want to do."
Cronic is no stranger to offensive success. Cronic was the Offensive Coordinator at Furman University this past fall, leading the Paladins to an 8-5 record – 6-2 in the Southern Conference – and a second-place finish in the league standings.
Before his second stint with Furman, Cronic coached at Reinhardt (Ga.) University for five years (2012-16) and was instrumental in the startup of the program in November of 2011. For the first three seasons, Cronic served as Assistant Head Coach, Offensive Coordinator, Quarterbacks Coach and Recruiting Coordinator for the Eagles before being named the head coaching prior to the 2015 campaign.
In his first season, Cronic directed Reinhardt to a 9-2 season before a record-breaking in 2016. The Eagles went 13-1, won the Mid-South Conference Championship and advanced to the NAIA National Quarterfinals. Reinhardt averaged 51.1 points per contest and totaled 550.6 yards of offense per game, ranking first in the nation in both categories.
Reinhardt also led the nation in rushing offense (360.0 ypg) and rushing touchdowns (71) while having the nation's second-highest passing efficiency (178.0) to go along with 25 touchdown passes. In addition, the Eagles' defense finished second in the nation in points allowed (13.8 ppg) and sacks (46) and fifth in total defense at 283.5 yards per contest.
Cronic isn't exactly starting from scratch with the Bears either, especially defensively. Lenoir-Rhyne might have the most talented defensive player in the South Atlantic Conference with safety Kyle Duggar.
Dugger led the conference in solo tackles with 59 and his 85 total tackles ranked fourth in the league. The senior added 4.5 tackles for loss, one interception, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery. He truly showed out against Carson-Newman when he recorded 18 tackles and a forced fumble.
"Coming out of spring, I felt like our defense was ahead of our offense," Cronic said. "The first group was more experienced and a little older. I expect us to play good defense and Coach Aldridge has done a good job guiding them. There's going to be some young guys on the two deep. I expect us to play good solid defense. We're a little thin so we need to establish depth."
That's not that surprising. The Bears, picked sixth in the SAC preseason poll, will have to replace starting tailback Nelson Brown, who transferred to California (Pa.), and starting quarterback Jarrod Kellar, who transferred to Edinboro.
The Bears do have a pair of All-SAC wideouts in Saaehim Brooks and Jaquay Mitchell. Cronic indicated the Bears may have an answer to Brown's departure at running back.
"Warren Bell is a guy who we were very excited to sign. He played a lot of QB at Scotland and will play running back for us," Cronic said. "He's a bigger back and had a good summer with his weight room and conditioning stuff. It's always hard to project how a freshman is going to do but he's a kid we are going to take a really strong look at to see if he can help us this fall."
Jalen Soto earned preseason All-SAC honors on the offensive line, and is poised to anchor that position.
"Can we develop a finish mentality? Can we win close games in the fourth quarter and learning how to win and make plays when you just have to," Cronic said. "In this league, there's a lot of good teams and not a lot of separation between the teams so it will be the ability to win close games. It's a young football team with just three seniors so can young guys grow up quickly and improve depth. We are going to have to be a team that gets better every week."
The Better Know The Opponent series finishes with week 11 Saturday and a trip to UNC Pembroke.