VIDEO: Mike Turner Press Conference
VIDEO: 2016 Wingate Highlights
JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – Carson-Newman (2-0) heads to Wingate (2-0) Saturday for a 6 p.m. kickoff in what is both teams' SAC openers and the first night game in Irwin Belk Stadium history for the Bulldogs.
"We know that Wingate is a tough opponent, they've been a great opponent against Carson-Newman," Carson-Newman head coach Mike Turner said. "We know that this is their first home game, their first night game, I guess in the history of their stadium. So they are going to be excited and pumped up. We have to go out and play sound football, we have to go out and match that excitement."
The Eagles enter the matchup fresh off a 41-14 win over Saint Augustine's while the Bulldogs handled Fayetteville State on the road 31-21.
Carson-Newman will be trying to snap a two-game skid in SAC openers. The Eagles' haven't lifted the league schedule with a win since 2014 and a 55-42 win at Brevard.
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, winning on a Thursday night in Burke-Tarr Stadium in 2012, 33-24. The Bulldogs first ever win in the series came in 1995 under the lights at WBHS 25-24.
The Bulldogs are led by a two-headed terror at running back in Lawrence Pittman and Blake Hayes. Last year Hayes rushed for a record 42 times on the Eagles for 182 yards and three scores. Both players were named preseason first team All-SAC by the league office in August.
Combined with Carson-Newman's Antonio Wimbush (Kingsland, Ga.), all three first team running backs will be on the field Saturday.
Turner said he hopes his youthful football team realizes at 2-0, that the Eagles still haven't arrived yet.
"I think that our young men have to realize, and they did at that point, that when you get a team that the week before got beat 49-0, that doesn't mean anything on the next Saturday," Turner said in reference to Saint Augustine's week one loss to Catawba and subsequent tight first half with Carson-Newman. "We're good enough to be a good football team, if we come out and play wide open and excited the way we did in the first game. We got fired-up and excited in the second half and looked like a pretty good football team (last week). We're just good enough to do it that way but we're also dangerous enough, if we don't then we are not going to meet our goals and things that need to get done."
Turner indicated a fast start from the defense will be necessary yet again to combat against Hayes and Pittman.
"I think that they are very similar in that they want to get you in a situation, where they are in a two or three tight end set and can run the ball down hill on you," Turner said. "Football is football, if you're going to try and win a football game, you've got to stop the run first. It doesn't matter if it's a spread team or a two tight end team, if a defense is going to win you got to stop the run first and then make them go to the next level."
Last year, turnovers plagued the Eagles in a 29-16 home loss to the Bulldogs. C-N gave away two fumbles and threw three picks for the first time in a game since 2009.
However, this year, through two weeks, Carson-Newman is one of 13 teams in the country, and the only team in the South Atlantic Conference, to play turnover free. Last year, the Eagles played turnover free for two weeks before giving the ball up five times in a 40-20 loss in week three to Catawba.
"We don't take of the football on Saturday in the first quarter that could have been horrendous," Turner said in reference to the SAU game. "At least we are able to take care of the ball, punt the ball and play great defense. It's always a matter of turnovers when you got two good football teams going at it, who's going to be able to take it away and who is going to be able to secure it. Then who is going to make plays."
Carson-Newman wide receiver Dorren Miller (Roswell, Ga.) leads the country in yards per catch. The senior is averaging an absurd 53.25 yards a touch. Miller doesn't have a reception under 40 yards.
He is the only player among the ranks of the FBS, FCS and Division II to average more than 40 yards a catch through two weeks. Miller leads players in all divisions, and has a slim lead over Wilmington (OH) player PJ Meyer for the lead among all divisions. Meyer averages 50 yards a catch.
"I think sometimes Dorren may trick them and they may not think that he is as fast as he is," Turner said. "He's got great speed, but again I go back to how hard he has worked to develop himself. He's a guy that's earned the right to win, he's a guy that's earned the right to be successful at his position. After looking at those stats, I need to find a way to get him the ball more often. We've got to do a better job of getting the ball in his hands."
While C-N certainly wouldn't mind Miller showing up in a big way against the Bulldogs, it's been the Eagle ground came that has flummoxed Wingate in the past.
C-N has six, 400-yard rushing performances in the last 12 years. The Eagles have also dropped at least 40 points in 10 of the last 16 meetings. The Bulldogs have also allowed four of Carson-Newman's 35, 200-yard individual rushing performances. Only Tusculum has allowed more (five).
However, the Bulldogs did limit the Eagles to 150 yards on the ground last year, C-N's second lowest rushing tally of the season.
Kickoff from Irwin Belk Stadium is set for 6 p.m. Pregame coverage on the Eagle Sports Network starts at 5 with the AEC Tailgate Show on Joy 620 (WRJZ-AM, Knoxville), Mountain Country 106.3 (WPFT-FM, Sevierville) and online at cneagles.com/live. Wingate will also provide an ESPN3 broadcast of the game.