Ryan Brown

October Football! - Week 5 in the SAC

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What a week of football. Just when we thought we would get plenty of answers and feel confident in where this league was headed this year, Catawba pulls off a massive upset. I really think it is one of top five upsets in the last decade. Based on all variables: in Mossy Creek, C-N #10, Catawba shutout the week before, and so on. Really puts a lot of doubt in all of our minds on what kind of team CN has and how good Catawba can be. The LR defense is what, to me, stands them apart from the Eagles right now. They held two solid passing attacks to just one pass TD over the last eight quarters. Newberry is 4-0 but they are a wait and see team still. We've all documented that they started 4-0 last year only to finish 1-6. Yes, they have been great this year, but lets give them a chance to play well in October. They got CATU in the rain and MHC without their starting QB but they handled both soundly so they seem as much as a contender as anyone.

Our only week of the year with all SAC games. All four games at 1:30 or 2 as well. Just like the good ole SAC8 days where it was all conference games each week in October and November. Here we go!

Newberry (4-0, 2-0 SAC) at Wingate (1-2, 0-1 SAC)
1:30 p.m. - Wingate, N.C.

The Wolves head into Wingate with a second straight 4-0 start to their season thanks to a solid 24-10 win over the Lions. The NC defense has given up just one touchdown in their two SAC games. The Bulldogs return home after two road losses to defending champion LR and 15th ranked UNCP. The Bulldogs looked like a much different team in their home opener and will look to recapture that against NC.

This has been a series that has featured plenty of streaks. Most recently, Wingate has won three straight but the Wolves won four in a row before that. Furthermore, of the 23 all time games between the two teams, 20 times the game has been decided by 12 points or less. The Bulldogs continued to struggle to run the football against UNCP. They average just .5 yards per carry on the season and cannot survive the upcoming SAC schedule without the emergence of some kind of ground game. They continue to get in 2nd and 3rd down and long situations. WU quarterback Robbie Nallenweg is #2 in the nation in completion percentage but can't open up the passing game more when the defense is dropping 8 without the threat of the run game. The Wolves won't make it easier, sitting #2 in the SAC in rush defense, even after a big week from Shak Davis of Mars Hill. The Newberry offense is the most balanced attack in the league and QB WT Murden's numbers have been a good implication of that. He has relied heavily on the run at times but carried the team on his arm as well.

Outside of the WU offensive line vs the NC defensive line, the battle on third down will also be huge. Both teams are at the bottom of the SAC in 3rd down conversions and prolonging drives on manageable 3rd down distances will be huge. The Bulldog defense is #7 in the country against the pass and will have to continue to create turnovers to give the offense a boost. Newberry's punt coverage is tops in the nation, limiting returners to negative return yards on average. Special teams and big plays could play a huge factor and could make or break this game. Catawba's win last week should help everyone stop looking at records and previous weeks. Wingate played extremely well in week one at home and seem much more comfortable in front of their home crowd. Newberry wants to prove that their 4-0 start is here to stay and contend in 2013. A Newberry win puts them 3-0 with four SAC games to play. A Wingate win gets them right back into it a 1-1 and knocks off one of the two remaining unbeaten teams in league play.

Predicition: None (calling game)

Catawba (3-1, 1-1 SAC) at Tusculum (2-2, 0-1 SAC)
1:30 p.m. - Greeneville, Tenn.

Forget that Catawba actually won at Carson-Newman but focus more on how crazy the last drive was for CATU. The Indians converted a 4th and 10, then later scored only to have it called back for holding. The next play O'Brien fumbled but the Indians managed to recover. Next play? 34 yard TD pass. Unbelievable poise for Catawba to find a way to get it done. Tusculum did a solid job defensively, limiting big plays from LR but couldn't get off the field on third down. Along with the offense's inability to score put them in a tough spot.

I mentioned last week that Catawba had to get much better converting third down to beat the Eagles. They were much better compared to the shutout loss to Newberry but still sit under 38% for the season. Tusculum is an offense usually built around scoring fast. But their two scoring drives against LR were 14 and 15 plays. Seems like the Pioneers are looking to get off and running early and often and the Indian offense needs to sustain long drives again, like they did against CN, and really put pressure on the TC defense. Give credit as well the Catawba's offensive line. 53 dropbacks for O'Brien and just one sack allowed. Cordell had 58, and was dropped seven times. We expect a lot more attempts on Saturday and whichever line can protect well, gets a huge advantage in the passing game. There will also be many talented wide receivers that will have chances to rack up yards after catch and make things happen in the open field. Burgess for CAT and Houston for TC are the ones to watch.

Rarely do we ever see a schedule where a N.C. based team makes back to back Tennessee trips but that is facing the Indians Saturday. If the pick 'em is any idication, the jury is still out on both of these teams. The Pioneers, like Wingate, can get right back into the mix with a win. Tusculum was so close to picking off North Greenville and had their chances against LRU. Catawba was the team that broke through last week, and this is the week the Pioneers break through and win a close game.

Prediction : Tusculum 30, Catawba 28

#21 Carson-Newman
(3-1, 1-1 SAC) at Mars Hill (1-3, 0-1 SAC)

The Eagles had a long week of practice thinking about all the missed opportunities. They were a stop on fourth and 10, or a fumble recovery, or one of two missed field goals away from remaining undefeated. Now they must regroup on the road in Mars Hill on Saturday. The Lions finally return home after three up and down weeks away. The road trip ended with a 24-10 loss at Newberry in a game where the Lions turned it over four times in Newberry territory. One of those, a fumble in the second quarter, that could have changed momentum of the game.

A lot of this game is determined on the outcome of Lion quarterback Trent Miller. He suffered an apparent injury at the end of the Western game that kept him out against NC. Or maybe not, just relaying info I received. Either way, fellow freshman Zach Lappin replaced him with a fumble and three picks to, as mentioned, costing the Lions the game in a 14 point loss. Lappin did well to lead MHU down the field but just couldn't finish drives. If he is back under center, Lion fans hope he has worked through the mistakes this week and will be ready for his first home start. Miller had a great start to the season with 7 TD and 2 INT. But regardless of the QB, the offense goes through SAC leader Shak Davis. He has been dubbed Randolph 2.0 and just like JR, he gets better the more carries he gets. Mars Hill will need some big plays to keep up with the Eagles and they can get them from Davis and wideout Dimitri Holmes. They can't expect to trade drives with Carson-Newman. That kind of game favors the quick strike Eagles. CN quarterback De'Andre Thomas looks to get the Eagles offense back on track. They came up empty on fourth and goal on the two yard line early in the game that could've put CAT in a 14-0 hole. Plus just 3 for 15 on third down. Many of them short yardage, which is surprising for an offense that rarely gets pushed back.

There have been talks of play calling, plus lack of enough experience for the starters as the faults for the CN loss. To me, it seems 24 pass attempts is too many when you have the likes of Hibbet, Douglas, and Baker in your backfield. I expect the Eagles to really hammer the run against Mars Hill, who have given up the second most rushing yards among SAC teams. I like the Eagles to bounce back either way, but if Miller is back, the Lions could really cause problems and get into a close, high scoring affair. Won't be enough against a Carson-Newman team and coach Ken Sparks who will be refocused and ready to go.

Prediction: Carson-Newman 38, Mars Hill 28

(1-3, 0-1 SAC) at Lenoir-Rhyne (3-1, 2-0 SAC)
2 p.m. - Hickory, N.C.

The Bears return home after grinding out a tough road win at Tusculum. As mentioned, the Bears were a long way from the 51 they scored against TC last year but had another strong showing on defense to make up for it. Brevard put themselves in a huge first half hole against North Greenville but didn't quit and had a nice offensive showing, rushing for over 400 yards.

How could we talk BC at LR without mentioning the 3OT thriller in Hickory two seasons ago. LR had to kick a field goal late in the fourth to send the game in OT where both teams kicked a FG, then scored a TD, with the game ending in the third OT on a Bear touchdown. Brevard played fairly well last year against LR, trailing only 14-0 at half. They just didn't have enough offensive firepower. This year they seem more equipped with the likes of Wright, Jeter, and Ollis to make a run at the Bears. LR quarterback Miles Freeman is really starting to settle in and lead the LR offense like Haynes and Herron did before him. It's all quick decisions and timing and Freeman really has made huge strides since that eight fumble day in week one. I always hear about non option teams working in practice to get ready to play an option team. They have their "option QB" that does their best to simulate the opposing team. When it is two option teams against each other, it seems like it would be a much simpler week of preparation. You can never simulate the type of talent some of the SAC option teams have, which makes it tough. Lenoir-Rhyne and Brevard's option are very similar and always seem prepared for each other. It then comes down to execution. Which defense can hit the gaps and tackle? Missed tackles are absolute killers in today's game with the size and strength that the tailbacks possess. Brevard has to protect the football and force LR into long scoring drives instead of quick strikes. They can not win a shootout and must not get into one with LR.

The Brevard offense is really improving and I still think the Tornados win a SAC game this year, if not two. But LR's defense is just too talented and will find ways to slow down the Tornados. I think Brevard hangs around early but it will be all Bears the rest of the way at Moretz to push them to 3-0.

Prediction : Lenoir-Rhyne 45, Brevard 20

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Updated 10-04-2013 at 02:12 AM by Ryan Brown

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  1. mgcomedy's Avatar
    Great write-up Ryan! Always look forward to reading these.