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College Football: Preview box for Catawba-Tusculum

CATAWBA (5-2, 1-2 SAC) at TUSCULUM  (4-3, 2-2 SAC)

Pioneer Field,  Greeneville, Tenn.

Today, 2:30 p.m.

Radio: WSAT Memories 1280.

Coaches — Catawba’s Curtis Walker is in his fifth season and is 31-21, The Indians have been good (17-9) on the road during Walker’s tenure. Walker is 2-2 against Tusculum.

Tusculum’s Jerry Odom was hired in December, 2015, and is in his second year as head coach of the Pioneers.  His record is 8-10. He’s 1-0 against Catawba.

In his playing days, Odom was a linebacker at the University of Florida, where he was a four-year letterman and two-year starter. Before he took the reins of the Tusculum program, he was a Division I assistant coach at a lot of places, including Florida and East Carolina.

Last game: It was a cold slap in the face for Catawba, a 27-24 home loss to Wingate. Catawba played outstanding football in the second and third quarters but failed to finish. Tusculum stunned Newberry, 32-31 in overtime, probably the biggest upset of the season in the South Atlantic Conference. Newberry was the preseason favorite.

Series: Catawba holds an overwhelming 24-7 lead. Tusculum has done OK in recent seasons, however, and beat the Indians in 2010, 2013 and 2016. Tusculum won last season, 38-28.

Players to watch: Tusculum had two of the three SAC players of the week, an understandable reward for a huge upset. Junior quarterback Alex Ogle threw two touchdown passes before he ran for a TD in OT and then passed for a decisive 2-point conversion. For the season, he’s thrown for 1,573 yards and 10 touchdowns. Punter Hunter Cantrell was the SAC’s special teams player of the week. He not only averaged 43.1 yards per punt, he put all eight of his punts inside the Newberry 20. Running back Maxwell Joseph has scored nine touchdowns to lead the SAC. Linebacker L’Keith Brown is one of the SAC’s top tacklers.

For Catawba, the offensive line is looking for a bounce-back game. The Indians couldn’t run the ball against Wingate.  “We’ve got to be more physical than we were last week and we’ve got to establish our running game early,” center Kevin Norton said. Catawba has big-play guys in back Kenyatta Greene and receiver Sam Mobley, and quarterback Patrick O’Brien has done a nice job of getting the ball to them. O’Brien’s 15 TD passes are tied for first in the SAC. All-America linebacker Kyle Kitchens is the guy every opponent game-plans for, but he still has nine sacks. That leads the SAC and has Kitchens tied for second nationally.

Worth mentioning: Both teams boast pretty impressive stats. Catawba’s defense is still ranked in the top 20 in Division II and is allowing 17 points per game. That’s six less than Tusculum allows. Catawba has a smaller advantage offensively. But teams have been good in the turnover battle. Catawba is plus-7 in turnovers for the season (creating 16, losing 9), but Tusculum has been even better at plus-9.  Both rank in the top 25 nationally in turnover margin.

Catawba will make the trip up to the mountains on Friday. The Indians have to win this one — and the next three — if they’re going to do anything special this season. The good news is they’re capable of doing that.

Tusculum started SAC play 0-2 with losses to Limestone (in overtime) and Lenoir-Rhyne before beating Mars Hill and Newberry.

Tusculum’s homecoming festivities are today.

Weather: Partly cloudy with comfortable temperatures. Headed toward 50 after the sun goes down, but probably still in the 70s at kickoff.

Outlook: Catawba appears to have the stronger team — by a touchdown or so  — and the Indians have usually played well on the road in recent years. But this one probably comes down to what kind of emotional state Catawba is in. They’re coming into the game off a loss that couldn’t have been any harsher, while Tusculum is coming in off a win that couldn’t have been any sweeter.

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