VIDEO: Mike Turner Press Conference
VIDEO: 2017 Newberry Highlight Reel
JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – When Carson-Newman (2-1, 1-0 South Atlantic Conference) and Newberry (1-2, 0-0 SAC) match wits Saturday at Setzler Field at 1 p.m., something will have to give between the conference's top rushing attack and one of the league's best rushing defenses.
The Eagles enter the game the nation's fourth-best rushing attack and the league's best. The C-N veer-option attack has hummed along with 314 yards per game on the ground and 5.6 yards per carry.
Meanwhile, Newberry has nigh been impregnable, especially against the run. The Wolves are allowing 83 yards per game on the ground, a figure that ranks 16th nationally and second in the SAC.
The Wolves have especially been effective against the run the last two weeks in a narrow loss to Florida Tech and a home win over Virginia-Lynchburg.
Florida Tech gained eight yards on 29 rushing attempts and VUL totaled 42 carries for 30 yards, bringing the two-game total allowed by the Wolves' defense to 38 yards on 71 carries (0.54 yards per carry). The 38 yards allowed represent Newberry's second-fewest in a two-game span since computer records began in 1999.
"Well they are a great front four, and the two linebackers sitting there with them. They're going to play the six-man box with the two strong safety types sitting in the alley, it's what they have done," Carson-Newman head football coach Mike Turner said. "I wouldn't imagine they'd do much different than that, they've felt like they've been very successful. They're a very talented group, we've got to do what we do best, we need to execute better than we did last year."
It starts up front for the Wolves with defensive lineman Jamarcus Henderson. The senior is a load to deal with.
The All-SAC performer has the most tackles for loss (52.5) of any active player in NCAA Division II. He ranks third among players in all divisions behind two Division III players - Isaac Zickafoose of Bluffton and Javon Muhammed of MacMurray. Henderson has 20 career tackles and 2.5 sacks in three career games against Carson-Newman.
Newberry has limited Carson-Newman to under 300 yards rushing in three straight games. The fourth, a 48-21 win for Newberry in 2014, the Eagles were limited to 301 yards rushing. In fact, Newberry has held Carson-Newman below its season average for rushing in every game since 2010 when the Eagles racked up 451 yards in a 35-12 win at Setzler Field.
Newberry has won back-to-back games against Carson-Newman and is looking for its first ever three-game winning streak (in consecutive seasons) against the Eagles in the series' 53-game history.
"We were in the position to win the game last year and did not," Turner said. "We also know what kind of atmosphere and what it'll be when you go down there to play. Our kids simply just have to line up, execute and take care of the football. If we get turnovers from our defense and we don't turn it over on offense those are pleasant Saturdays."
For the Eagles to do that, they'll have to buck a down trend in the Palmetto State. The home team is 9-3 in the series over the last 11 years. Carson-Newman's only win at Setzer Field in that span came in 2010 when the Eagles downed the Wolves 35-12.
Carson-Newman has lost three straight at Setzler Field and four of its last five at the field adjacent a graveyard. Carson-Newman won seven consecutive games at Newberry from 1989 through 2005 (the series halted for a half decade during that stretch when Newberry left the SAC).
Meanwhile, the Eagles have been able to turn to a stout run defense of their own to help get to 2-1. Carson-Newman hasn't allowed a rush of 20 or more yards since the Lenoir-Rhyne game last year on Nov. 4. The Eagles held Wingate to nearly half its rushing average in last Saturday's 31-14 triumph.
Through three weeks, @cnfootball has yet to allow a rush of 20 yards. Streak extends to the last week of 2017 against UNCP as well. So it's been since Nov. 4, 2017 that C-N allowed a 20-yd rush or longer— Adam Cavalier (@cavonthecall) September 17, 2018
Opposing teams are averaging 113 yards on the ground against the Eagles this year. Newberry is averaging 180 yards rushing this season, the fourth best rushing attack in the conference.
The Wolves can also turn to the air and All-SAC wide receiver Markell Castle. The wideout had 100 yards on six receptions last year against the Eagles. The senior scored the game-winning touchdown in last year's 25-21 Newberry win with under a minute to play at Burke-Tarr Stadium.
"He's a very very talented young man," Turner said. "They're going to work to get him the football, he's going to get opportunities. Any receiver, any running back, if the purpose of that game plan is specifically to get you the ball, like we did a year ago with our receiver, we were going to give him the football. He's proven what kind of talent he is so they're going to take care of him."
Castle is expected to threaten every major Newberry receiving record this season. He is 83 yards shy of becoming the third 2,000-yard receiver in school history, needs 29 yards to pass Brandon Bostick (2008-11) for third in school history, and 91 to pass Kendal Brown (2000-03) for second.
He's the league's third-leading receiver this season with 53.3 yards per game.
Meanwhile, the Eagles continue to develop their own depth in the backfield. Six different Eagles have found the end zone on the ground through three weeks.
All-America candidate Antonio Wimbush (Kingsland, Ga.) is the leading rusher with 359 yards and three scores. He's averaging 7.2 yards a carry, a figure that's top 20 in the country.
However, it's been the emergence of Toot Johnson (Rincon, Ga.) that has added loads of depth to the Eagles' backfield.
Johnson pounded the rock for 148 yards on a paltry nine carries against Wingate. Johnson tallied 121 yards on six carries with two scores in the fourth quarter alone. He finished the day with 148 yards on nine carries for a whopping 16.2 yards a tote. That tally is the highest rushing total by a freshman since Tyron Douglas ran for 183 yards against Newberry in 2010.
"Naturally we've got to work him in earlier and get him more reps this week in practice. I think he's a very exciting young man, we knew that when we recruited him," Turner said. "Now that you're coming into the fourth game of the season, a lot of things are settling down for kids learning and repetition wise where things are getting more automatic and that's what you want to have. We've got a lot less thinking going on right now, if you've got athletes, the worst thing you can make them do is make them think too much. So, we want to get that out of it and just let it be a reaction game."
Kickoff between the Eagles and Wolves is set for 1 p.m. Saturday. The Eagle Sports Network hits the air at noon with the AEC Tailgate Show on Joy 620 (WRJZ-AM, Knoxville), Mountain Country 106.3 (WFPT-FM, Sevierville) and online at cneagles.com/live.