Sparks to coach in 399th career game as Eagles take to the road to face Shorter
JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – Carson-Newman (4-1) head coach Ken Sparks will be coaching in his 399th career game when the Eagles take to the Historic Barron Stadium Field Saturday to face Shorter (0-5), which as a program, will play its 90th game when the Eagles come to town.
"We're playing against the best 0-5 football team in America," Carson-Newman head coach Ken Sparks said. "They've played Charleston Southern, Valdosta State and North Alabama. That's some pretty heady competition. And West Georgia and Mars Hill are pretty solid too.
"Shorter's a good football team, they've got a bunch of starters back off last year's team. They're a time bomb waiting to happen, and I hope it doesn't go off against us because if we're not ready, it will."
Shorter has suffered a pair of 41-0 defeats at the hands of both No. 1 Valdosta State and North Alabama and has faced one of the 10 toughest schedules in Division II to date.
Carson-Newman and Shorter have never played, but the Eagles are 5-1 all-time at Barron Stadium. The Eagles played there at the Nick Hyder Classic between 1998 and 2005. The Eagles lone loss came to North Alabama, 27-24, in 1999 and most recently defeated West Georgia in that arena 14-10 in '05.
The Phil Jones-coached Hawks run a triple option attack similar to Brevard's. Shorter run up FCS Charleston Southern for 231 yards on the ground and gained 330 against Mars Hill (the Lions allowed 433 to C-N last week), but the Hawks have been held under 200 yards rushing for three consecutive weeks.
"Like any option team, you have to play with discipline," Sparks said. "The quarterback is an accomplished passer and rusher. If you give him a crease, he's gone. They're coming at you to hit you in the mouth to go north and south pretty fast."
Eric Dodson has passed for 583 yards and two scores to go along with 246 yards rushing and two more touchdowns. He's completed a pair of 50-yard passes this year in addition to rushing for more than 50 yards on a pair of plays.
The Eagles counter with De'Andre Thomas (Milledgeville, Ga.) under center. C-N's signal caller is coming off an 82-yard ground game performance against Mars Hill. However, after starting the year by completing 69 percent of his passes, Thomas has failed to complete more than 40 percent of his passes over the last two weeks.
"That's something we have to correct," Thomas said. "If we're going to make a deep run the coaches know that the pass game has to improve along with the run. The running game is going to be there."
Both Carson-Newman's passing and running attacks will have to adapt to Shorter's odd stack. The Hawks will line up in 3-3 and 4-2-5 alignments.
"The first time I watched video of this team, I thought, 'let's go to Rome, go eat and come home,'" Sparks said. "On hoof, they really are a ferocious football team. They'll be a tremendous challenge for us."
Dominique Henfield, a 6-2, 240-pound mike linebacker is the Hawks' leading tackler with 27 stops.
Carson-Newman's defense continued its opportunistic bent last Saturday against Mars Hill with a pick and a fumble recovery. The Eagles are fifth in the nation in takeaways with 15 – three of the team's total from the entirety of 2012. Eight different players have made interceptions for the Eagles, while Jonathan Sites (Hendersonville, Tenn.) is in the top 10 in the nation with three fumble recoveries.
"The last two games we have not substituted at cornerback," Sparks said. "I hope our guys are ready to go this week because we really have taxed them the last few times out."
Carson-Newman and Shorter kickoff at 1:30 p.m. Saturday. Pregame coverage begins with the Tailgate Show at 12:30 p.m. on the Eagle Sports Network on Joy 620 (WRJZ-AM, Knoxville), 106.3 ESPN Radio the Zone (WPFT-FM, Sevierville) and online at cneagles.com/live.