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College football: Indians major underdogs on the road

By Mike London
mike.london@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — Even in the best of times, Carson-Newman is a handful, and recent weeks have been the worst of times for Catawba football.

Catawba (1-4, 0-2 South Atlantic Conference) hasn’t won since Sept. 14 and carries the burden of a three-game losing skid into Saturday’s road game with the Carson-Newman Eagles (3-1, 1-1 SAC).

In the alarming-scores department, Catawba lost to UNC Pembroke 28-14 on Sept. 21. Carson-Newman routed UNC Pembroke 69-14 last Saturday.

That doesn’t mean the Indians are going to lose by 60 on Saturday. The Massey Ratings, which predict every conceivable contest, favor Carson-Newman by 24.

Catawba might do better than that. The Indians have nothing to lose and the last time they were major underdogs they responded with their best game of the season and lost 13-10 to Wingate.

As is frequently the case, Carson-Newman is among the best rushing teams in Division II. The Eagles are ranked third nationally, just ahead of Lenoir-Rhyne. They’re rolling for 6 yards per carry and 320 yards per game. They’ve put the ball in the end zone via the ground game 14 times.

To put those numbers in perspective, Catawba owns three rushing TDs, two by quarterback Kendall Davis, and runs for 137 yards per game.

So the challenge for Catawba begins with stopping — or at least slowing down — Carson-Newman’s ground attack. The Indians try to work from inside-out. Stop the dive. Then stop the quarterback keeper. Then stop the pitch man.

Forcing the Eagles to throw will be the goal, but that’s everyone’s goal against Carson-Newman. No doubt that  was UNCP’s goal last week, and we know how that turned out.

Carson-Newman’s defense also provides a formidable challenge.

“That’s an athletic defense,” Davis said. “We know we’re going to have limited possessions because their offense keeps the ball, so we have to make every one of our possessions count.”

Catawba coach Curtis Walker believes Davis is playing at a high enough level for Catawba to win if some other things fall into place. Davis is completing half of his passes for 895 yards and has thrown five touchdown passes. He’s been exciting, and he’s been pretty good.

“But teams have just been making more plays than we have,” Walker said. “We had some good, explosive plays on Saturday, but we need more of them. We need consistency.”

One thing Catawba has to get dramatically better at is getting its defense off the field on third down.

Catawba ranks 162nd out of 166 D-II teams when it comes to third-down defense. Opponents have been converting at a rate of 51.5 percent.

To put that number in perspective, Catawba’s offense converts third downs at a 35.4 percent clip.

Carson-Newman has ruled this series, for the most part, and leads it 39-12-1.

Walker’s teams have generally played stoutly against the Eagles. They are 3-3 against Carson-Newman. Catawba won in Jefferson City, Tenn., in 2013 and 2015 and at Shuford Stadium in 2016.

Catawba will travel Friday and face the Eagles on the artificial turf at Burke-Tarr Stadium on Saturday at 1 p.m.

Playing on the road shouldn’t be much of a handicap. The Indians are 21-16 in road games under Walker, slightly better than their home record (19-16).

WSAT will broadcast the game.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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