JEFFERSON CITY—Carson-Newman (3-1, 1-1 South Atlantic Conference) brings the South Atlantic Conference's stingiest defense into the final contest in a three-game home stand when Catawba (1-4, 0-2 SAC) comes to Burke-Tarr Stadium for a 1 p.m. kick Saturday.
The Eagles will be looking to continue a defensively dominant trend. Carson-Newman has held its opposition to an average of 283 yards of total offense per game, the fifth best total in the country. C-N ranks eighth in pass efficiency defense (87.55), 10th in pass defense (133.5 yds/gm) and 17th in scoring defense (17.0).
Those figures will be put to the test against the first mobile quarterback that Carson-Newman has faced all year. Kendall Davis was thrust into the starting role after a preseason injury to starter Ken Avent. Davis has turned in 269 yards on the ground on 44 carries. He is second on the team in rushing yards and leads Catawba with two scores on the ground.
"I think he's probably right up to this point (in the season) the best one as far as the mobility part of it and can make plays and extend plays," Carson-Newman head football coach Mike Turner said. "You might think you have him right there where you want him, people covered and boom, somebody's not quite contained or somebody's over pursed in the gap and he has a knack for knowing when to pull it down. That's the sign of a great quarterback…when I should be throwing the football, if I haven't thrown it I need to make something happen with it."
In spite of Davis' capabilities on the ground, Catawba has struggled offensively at times this year. The Indians are seventh in the league in total offense with 312.8 yards per game, and the bottom of the league in scoring in 16.0 points per game.
The Eagles have held back-to-back foes under 200 yards of total offense, and only Wingate has crested 300 yards of total offense on the year.
Carson-Newman's defensive dominance has started against the run. The Eagles haven't given up a run longer than 17 yards in any of their wins. Opponents have only averaged 61 yards per game against Carson-Newman in any off the Eagles' wins.
While opponent's rushing attacks have languished against the Eagles, Carson-Newman's has flourished.
C-N has averaged 431 yards per game on the ground on its current two-game winning streak. The Eagles are third in the country with 320.5 yards per game.
"That group up front has continued to mature, continue to grow in confidence," Turner said of the offensive line. "Their explosion…you can be 290 pounds or 300 pounds, you still can have explosion and that's what we want. That's an explosive offense and has to start with that. But those guys have done a good job of, 'hey, let's just do our job,' okay, let's do our job and let the rest of it happen. Been very pleased with their effort."
The Eagles will be hoping for continued success on the ground against the Indians.
Carson-Newman has tallied back-to-back 300-yard rushing performances on Catawba. The Eagles rushed for 350 yards in last season's overtime win, and 333 yards in a 31-18 triumph at Burke-Tarr Stadium in 2017. The total yards rushing are also the most that the Eagles have gained on Catawba since Curtis Walker took over the Indians' program in 2013. The only other time Carson-Newman has rushed for more than 250 yards against a Curtis Walker-coached team was in 2014 when the Eagles put up 313 yards on the ground en route to a 35-33 win over the Indians at Shuford Stadium.
"Cris (Page, defensive back) has been there for a while in the secondary," Turner said. "He's very solid. One year when he was a freshman he had a pick-six against us over there. He's been a great football player for them. I think that the linebackers that they moved them around a little bit in maybe different spots but they're still the same kind of football player. They play aggressive, they tackle well and they run to the football."
The record book watch will be on for the Eagles in the contest.
Antonio Wimbush (Kingsland, Ga.) joined Carson-Newman's 3,000-yard club against Wingate and now has 3,156 yards in his career. He is ninth all-time in rushing yards. He needs 52 more yards to bypass Andy Hibbett (3,208 yards), while a 135-yard day would put Wimbush on level footing with the single-game school-record holder Buck Wakefield (3,291).
Wimbush's next 100-yard performance would give him 15 for his career, putting him even Tyrone Westmoreland for fourth most all-time. 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 isn't the only one who could alter the rushing record books. Derrick Evans' (Macon, Ga.) next rushing touchdown will be his 30th for his career. That will make him the 15th player in program history with 30 career rushing scores. A two-score day will move him into a tie for 12th on the all-time list with Robert Hardy and potentially Wimbush if he doesn't find the end zone.
Defensively, Desmond Fairell's (Miami, Fla.) next interception will be his 15th in his career. It will move him into a tie for fourth on the all-time list with Clayton Holmes.
The Eagles are trying to improve to 4-1 for the first time since 2014. The Eagles started 6-1 that year before losing two straight to Lenoir-Rhyne and Newberry.
C-N is looking for a third straight win against Catawba. The Eagles haven't won that many in-a-row against the Indians since five straight from 2008-12. Catawba has won two of the last three at the Creek.
"We talked about our football team being common or uncommon," Turner said. "Sometimes people that can go have two big wins, they get a bloated sense of security, they get a bloated sense of how good they are and usually sometimes comes and pops that balloon real quick. An uncommon football team sees that, 'hey, that was great, let's celebrate it but let's also look at how much better we can be and how much farther we've got to go to get to where we want to get to.' And there's really no middle of the road right there. You either are common or you're uncommon. Common won't win a championship so we talked to them about that yesterday and that we're going to prepare like we do every week and we expect to see you prepare well, to practice hard, to condition."
Kickoff between the Eagles and Indians is set for 1 p.m. Saturday.