VIDEO: Mike Turner Press Conference
VIDEO: 2018 Wingate Highlights
JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – Carson-Newman (1-0, 0-0 SAC) starts off South Atlantic Conference play with a bang when it heads to the Old North State to tangle with No. 19 Wingate (2-0, 0-0 SAC) at 6 p.m. at Irwin Belk Stadium.
The Eagles are receiving votes in the AFCA Coaches poll. Carson-Newman is coming off a 16-day layoff following a week one win over West Florida.
"I thought it worked out very well for us to have that open date," Carson-Newman head football coach Mike Turner said. "It's one thing in a way I was dreading to have, but as far as giving kids a chance to recover some nagging injuries, those types of things that really worked out good for us. It gave our kids a chance to push a little bit there in the middle of the week, have fundamental and technique days to improve there on the base things that we do in football, blocking and tackling, because that's still the name of this game."
Carson-Newman will be looking for something that's been a bit of a rarity over the last decade – a win over a ranked foe.
Carson-Newman is 2-9 over the last decade against ranked opposition on the road. The only two wins in that span were in the NCAA quarterfinals against No. 5 North Alabama 24-21 in 2009, and in 2015 when the Eagles downed No. 21 Wingate 41-38 in overtime. The Eagles have lost to two consecutive to ranked foes on the road, at No. 17 Valdosta in the 2015 playoffs and to No. 2 West Florida last year.
The Eagles are 2-6 overall against ranked foes in the last five years. Aside from the Wingate game in 2015, the Eagles other win came against then No. 23 Catawba in 2017.
To improve upon that ranked record, the Eagles will have to go up against a stout Wingate defense. The Bulldogs are third in the country in tackles for loss per game (12.0), 13th in pass efficiency defense (90.23), and 18th in total defense (245.5 yds/game).
"I think their scheme is very, very sound," Turner said. "They play hard. They run to the football - that's not a cliché, they do that well. They're very well-coached, as always. They don't make many mistakes that beat them, you have to beat them, they're not going to beat themselves on defense, and they're sound in what they do and how they execute. And that puts it on you that you have to execute, you have to take care of the football and you have to keep drives alive."
The Bulldogs will be looking to contain All-American and Harlon Hill Trophy Candidate Antonio Wimbush (Kingsland, Ga.).
Wimbush is on the cusp of becoming Carson-Newman's 11th ever 3,000-yard rusher. The Harlon Hill Trophy candidate needs 39 yards to hit the ledger. He also stands poised to move up C-N's all-time rushing charts. He needs 42 yards to move into the top 10 and bypass Nate Inman's 3,003 yards.
"He's been a young man that has grown tremendously, not only in football but in academics, spiritually and in his personal life," Turner said. "He's become a leader, the quiet leader, of this football team. Wimbo is a great kid and you want to see great things happen for him. He's a guy that we've mentioned before, he makes other people around him better, that's what you look for in football players."
His 14th career 100-yard game plus 20 more yards would move Wimbush into ninth past Alex Good (3,081). From there, Wimbush could in theory climb all the way to seventh, but it would take an all-time performance against a very good Wingate defense.
A 247-yard day (which would also rank as the 11th best single-game total in school history) would vault Wimbush past Andy Hibbett (3,208 yards), while a school-record chasing 330-yard day would put Wimbush on level footing with the single-game school record holder Buck Wakefield (3,291).
A three-touchdown day would draw Wimbush level with Leonard Guyton and Heath Hawkins for 11th on the career rushing touchdown chart with 34 career scores.
Wimbush has 138 yards on 36 carries in his career against the Bulldogs. He's averaged 3.8 yards per carry lifetime against Wingate with a career long rush of 20 yards. Those totals are both vastly lower than Wimbush's career numbers. He is second in Division II among active players in career yards per rush with 6.8 yards per tote. He also has 36 career plays of at least 20 yards or more.
Carson-Newman has moved the ball successfully in years past against the Bulldogs, but not in the recent future. C-N has six, 400-yard rushing performances in the last 14 years. The Eagles have also dropped at least 40 points in 10 of the last 18 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, 221 and 289 yards rushing the last three seasons. The Eagles are 1-2 against Wingate in that span.
"I think the number one thing you do is you do what you do to win the ball game," Turner said. "I'm so grateful we've got kids on this football team that showed last Thursday night how to play a football game and play hard, play together and play unselfishly. I think the number one thing you do is, number one you win the football game. That makes everybody happy. I've watched a lot of games in this country this year already where there weren't enough footballs to go around for everybody, then you've got problems. But our kids understand that we want to be more balanced with that part, especially on a first down situation, and put ourselves in a better position."
This is Carson-Newman's first and only game played on a grass surface this season. The Eagles were 3-2 on the natural stuff last year, taking wins at Virginia Union, Catawba and UNC Pembroke, while losses came at West Florida and Tusculum.
Kickoff between the Eagles and Bulldogs is set for 6 p.m. Coverage will be available on the Eagle Sports Network beginning at 5 p.m. with the AEC Tailgate Show on Joy 620 (WRJZ-AM, Knoxville), The Mountain 106.3 (WPFT-FM, Sevierville) and online at cneagles.com/live.