VIDEO: Mike Turner Press Conference
VIDEO: C-N v. UWF 2018 Highlights
JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – Carson-Newman opens up the 150th season of college football with an opponent that is all of four years old.
West Florida pays a return visit to Burke-Tarr Stadium for a 7 p.m. kickoff Thursday night after defeating the Eagles' in last year's season opener 19-9. The Argos are receiving votes to open up this season in the AFCA poll.
"It's always exciting opening week," head football coach Mike Turner said. "You get to a point where you've had full speed scrimmages and practice, you get yourself to game week and you get excited. An opening game at Mossy Creek is special. The fact that it's West Florida, a team that's two years removed from playing for a national championship is special."
The matchup resumes a trend of Thursday night home openers for the Eagles. Five of Carson-Newman's last seven lid-lifters have come on a Thursday night under the lights at Mossy Creek. The other two contests were losses, a road defeat last year to UWF and a home loss to No. Humboldt State in the first college football game played in 2016.
When at home on Thursday openers, the Eagles are 5-1 and averaging 50.6 points and 594 yards of total offense. However, unlike the previous six occasions, the Eagles' offense didn't erupt last year at UWF. Carson-Newman was held below 400 yards of total offense and 35 points for the first time in that span. The Eagles had 349 yards of total offense and nine points against the second-ranked Argos.
The season kicks of the last ride for a 28-member senior class. 2018 Don Hansen Football Gazette All-American and Harlon Hill Trophy Candidate Antonio Wimbush headlines that class and stands poised to cement himself in C-N's record books.
"Wimbo just needs to be Wimbo," Turner said. "All he needs to do is be himself. He's getting ready to play his last first home game. I don't want him, or the rest of the seniors, to over think anything. They just need to go out and enjoy them one game at a time and feel how blessed they are to be college football players."
Wimbush needs 1,276 yards to catch Robert Thomas as Carson-Newman's all-time leading rusher, a total that just eclipses his total yardage output from his redshirt junior campaign. Wimbush needs 80 yards to match Tyron Douglas on the all-time rushing chart and 120 yards to become Carson-Newman's 11th career 3,000-yard rusher. A mere four more yards and he moves past Nate Inman and into the top 10 all-time in career rushing for the Eagles.
He also stands poised to move up the school's all-time rushing touchdowns chart. Wimbush's next score will give him 31 for his career, a tie him with Robert Hardy for 13th all-time. It would take his first career four-TD day to move into a tie for 11th with Leonard Guyton and Heath Hawkins.
Wimbush is far from the only tailback in the Eagles' stable. A whopping 94 percent of the Eagles' rushing attack returns from last year. The Eagles have eight men who all rushed for at least 100 yards last year. Wimbush, Toot Johnson (Rincon, Ga.), Marcus Williams (Apopka, Fla.), Sherron Jackson (Miami, Fla.) and Demitri Saulsberry (St. Mary's, Ga.) all rushed for at least four touchdowns last year.
The Eagles will head into the teeth of a West Florida defense that bent but didn't break last year. The Argos ranked seventh in the Gulf South in total defense last year, giving up 403 yards of offense. However, UWF only allowed 25 points to settle in the top half of its conference, and forced a whopping 25 turnovers, 17th most in the country.
The Eagles were on the wrong side of two of those giveaways, both of which prematurely halted drives in UWF territory last year.
"We have to take care of the football better than we did last year," Turner said. "You talk about mistakes, we made those. I think we are also in better condition than we were last year. We had opportunities last year. We laid the ball on the ground twice when we were driving. We missed field goals. When you are playing a team the caliber of West Florida, it gets down to the least mistakes and taking advantage of your opportunities."
Trent Archie and Andre Dumcombe lead that defensive unit. Both were named All-GSC in the preseason.
Archie, who sat out the 2018 season, has averaged 93 tackles in his two previous stints on the field as a safety and nickelback. The Mobile Ala. product was the 2016 GSC Defensive Freshman of the Year and a Second Team All-Region selection.
Duncombe is a preseason honoree for the second-consecutive year and has 169 career tackles as an Argo. The linebacker from Miami, Fla. has a school-record 33.5 tackles for loss and 15.5 quarterback sacks.
Discounting last year's meeting in Pensacola, UWF head coach is no stranger to the Eagles. He guided UNC Pembroke from its program's founding in 2007 to his departure for Pensacola in 2012 with a couple playoff apperances in tow. Shinnick and C-N head coach Mike Turner have clashed four times with the series split 2-2. The Eagles had bookend wins in the series, downing Shinnick's Braves 35-22 in 2009 and 31-10 in 2012. However, it was Shinnick's teams who triumphed in 2010 and 2011, doing so in resounding fashion 30-7 and 42-14, respectively.
Carson-Newman is 30-8-1 in season-opening games since 1980. Carson-Newman hasn't scored any less than 44 points in an opening day win since 2003 (a 21-14 win over Winston-Salem State) save for 2014's 38-24 win over Edinboro. Aside from last year's defeat to UWF, the only losses on opening day in the last decade game in back-to-back years in 2009 and 2010 to Winona State, and Humboldt State in 2016.
Carson-Newman has scored more than 70 once, more than 50 four other times. The Eagles have only failed to score less than 40 three times since 1999 in wins.
Kickoff between the Eagles and Argos is set for 7 p.m. Thursday night at Burke-Tarr Stadium. Coverage on the Eagle Sports Network begins one hour prior to kick with the AEC Tailgate Show on Joy 620 (WRJZ-AM, Knoxville), The Mountain 106.3 (WPFT-FM, Sevierville) and online at cneagles.com/live.