VIDEO: Mike Turner Press Conference
VIDEO: 2017 Wingate Highlights
JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – Carson-Newman (1-1) will try to do something it hasn't done since 2012 Saturday at 7 p.m. Beat a defending South Atlantic Conference champion.
The Eagles are home at last after two length road trips to start the year against last year's SAC champs, the Wingate Bulldogs (2-0). Both teams are receiving votes in the AFCA Coaches Poll.
Wingate also has a little bit of history on its side when it comes to Mossy Creek on Sept. 15. The Eagles have lost six straight games to defending South Atlantic Conference champs (Lenoir-Rhyne twice in 2013, L-R again in 2014 and 2015, Catawba in 2016 and Newberry in 2017).
"It's going to be a great night number one because we get to play at home. It's going to be a very exciting thing for our kids, we need a home game, we're ready for that to happen," Carson-Newman head football coach Mike Turner said. "I think there's excitement about making this game an event, and hopefully thereafter every home game will be an event. People have helped all over campus, trying to make some special activities happen so we can have a great crowd for this game. But the most important thing about all of it is that it's the first conference game and we're playing the defending conference champions in Wingate University."
The game has been declared a "Fog Out" and is a NCAA Division II Showcase game. The game will be broadcast on ESPN 3. The first 3,000 fans through the gates will receive a free gray "Fog Out" t-shirt.
Carson-Newman football is trying to set a new Burke-Tarr Stadium attendance record. The current mark is 5,378, set against Tusculum during the 2007 season.
Additionally, admission is free to any South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia or Maryland resident presenting an ID with an address from a county evacuated by Hurricane Florence. Carson-Newman's Student Affairs Division will be collecting cash donations on Saturday at both the tailgate parties and the football game itself. If you donate by check, make it payable to "Carson-Newman University," and put "Disaster Relief," on the memo.
All those festivities surround what should be a pretty good football game. Wingate has taken the last two meetings between the teams and will be looking for a fourth win in five tries at Burke-Tarr Stadium.
Carson-Newman is 0-3 all-time against Wingate at night. The Bulldogs first ever win in the series came in 1995 under the lights at WBHS 25-24. Wingate also triumphed during a DII showcase game 33-24 on a Thursday night in Burke-Tarr Stadium in 2012, 33-24. Wingate also won last year under the lights in the first ever night game at Irwin Belk Stadium 31-27.
This is the first time that Carson-Newman plays its home opener outside of week one since 2011. The Eagles clobbered Fayetteville State in week two that year 56-7. This is the latest in the calendar that Carson-Newman has played its first home game since 2009, when the Eagles opened up Burke-Tarr with a 38-10 win over Campbellsville on Sept. 10.
The game also marks the first Saturday night game at Burke-Tarr Stadium since 2003 when the Eagles thumped Guilford 41-0 on Sept. 6.
Carson-Newman has moved the ball successfully in years past against the Bulldogs, but not so much recently. C-N has six, 400-yard rushing performances in the last 13 years. The Eagles have also dropped at least 40 points in 10 of the last 17 meetings. The Bulldogs have also allowed four of Carson-Newman's 35, 200-yard individual rushing performances. Only Tusculum has allowed more (five). However, Wingate has limited Carson-Newman to 150 and 221 yards rushing the last two seasons.
"I think they've had a great scheme against playing the option, it's not been anything radical we haven't seen many times," Turner said "We've got to be efficient. It goes back to first down, so that we can dictate some things on second down. If you're going to be an option offense the number one thing you've got to do is be patient with it. We saw that Saturday in the game about how to approach it. But they've got good players. They're a solid defense."
That may be a smidge of an understatement after the first two weeks of the season. Wingate has the second best scoring defense in the country. The Bulldogs have only allowed 13 points so far this year and one touchdown.
Wingate has allowed 210 yards of total offense per game and has the 10th-best total defense in the country.
The Bulldogs have accomplished that by bringing consistent and persistent pressure into opposing team's backfields. Wingate is averaging six sacks per game, including a nine-sack effort in the opener against Johnson C. Smith. The Bulldogs are sixth nationally with 11.75 tackles for loss per game.
Cardell Rawlings and Gabe Price lead the Bulldogs force into opponents' backfields. Rawlings is fourth in the country with 3.5 sacks through two weeks. Price ranks 16th nationally in sacks with 2.5.
The Bulldogs defense will look to slow down a Carson-Newman offense that scored five of the nine times it had the football last week against Virginia Union.
The Eagles vaunted veer-option attack is averaging 328.5 yards per game on the ground through two weeks. The Eagles rank fourth in the country in rushing offense.
Meanwhile, the Bulldogs' offense has looked sound and solid under red-shirt freshman QB Shaw Crocker.
"He's been very productive, I think they take care of the ball well which is something that sticks out as well," Turner said of the Bulldogs' first-year signal caller. "He's been efficient as a quarterback. You know they've had to replace those couple great running backs (All-SAC tailbacks Blake Hayes and Lawrence Pittman), but they still maintain their level of rushing the football. They're a formidable opponent, no doubt about it."
Crocker has completed 33-of-55 passes for 429 yards. He's hurled five touchdowns against just one interception.
Possibly aiding Crocker's transition is the presence of veteran playmakers around him. Wingate may boast the deepest receiving corps in the SAC. It's headlined by All-American BJ Muckelvene.
Muckelvene has ensnared 10 passes for 175 yards and two touchdowns.
"Well we need to get him graduated," Turner said with a chuckle. "But hey, he makes plays. He is going to be in a situation where he makes plays, you've just got to limit big plays. I think that's a key on defense is to make people earn what they get, make them work their way through that. Be smart in the kicking game. You're trying to keep the ball out of his hands obviously, he is a play maker for them. You've got to be aware he's on the field but have that philosophy."
Muckelevene returned a punt for a touchdown last year in Wingate's win at Irwin Belk Stadium.
Kickoff between the Eagles and Bulldogs is set for 7 p.m. Saturday. Coverage will be available on ESPN 3 as well as the Eagle Sports Network. The AEC Tailgate Show on the ESN gets underway at 6 p.m. on Joy 620 (WRJZ-AM, Knoxville), Mountain Country 106.3 (WPFT-FM, Sevierville) and online at cneagles.com/live.