JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. - This is the third part in an 11-part series breaking down all of Carson-Newman football's opponents for the 2017 season. This feature analyzes the Eagles' week-three opponent, Wingate.
Carson-Newman opens up South Atlantic Conference play on Sept. 16 with murder's row. C-N hits the road for Wingate (2016 second place), before entertaining Newberry (2016 SAC champs) and Catawba (2015 SAC champs) at the Creek.
The Eagles have the honor of being the first nighttime foe in Irwin Belk Stadium history. Wingate erected lights at its stadium over the summer. The Bulldogs have played night games in their home history before when they played games at Walter Bickett High School.
The Bulldogs are 2-0 all-time against Carson-Newman at night.
Wingate brings back seven offensive starters and fivedefensive starters from last year's 8-3 team that narrowly missed out on a berth in the NCAA playoffs.
Offensively, the Bulldogs will need to replace signal-caller Kyle Johnson and their receiving corps. However, the entire offensive line returns as do two of the most talented running backs in Super Region II.
Lawrence Pittman was leading the nation in rushing touchdowns before he went down with an injury in week six. The All-SAC candidate still finished the year with 786 yards and 15 scores. Blake Hayes filled in admirably in his stead, rushing for 1,109 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Wingate's offensive line isn't exactly tiny either. Connor Baroniunas is the runt of the litter at 6-2, 265. Wingate's five returning starters up front average 6-3.5 and 292 pounds.
Entering the 2017 fall campaign, the Bulldogs will have a new quarterback for the first time in three seasons. James Whitaker was the back-up to previous WU starter Kyle Johnson as Whitaker played in 10 games last season with 352 yards passing.
The Bulldogs lose quite a bit defensively, including d-lineman and South Atlantic Conference defensive player of the year Ray Edwards. In addition to Edwards, Wingate loses its entire front four from the best statistical defense in the SAC last season.
Wingate ranked seventh in the nation in total defense. The Bulldogs only allowed 276.7 total yards per game, 181 passing yards per game and 95.7 total rushing yards per contest. Wingate also tied for first in the league with 14 total interceptions and ranked first with four defensive touchdowns.
The Bulldogs do return everyone in the secondary, and also get back Kameron Johnson, who sat out last year with an injury, following an 81-tackle, all-conference campaign in 2015.
The Better Know the Opponent Series continues July 31 with Newberry.