College football: Indians look to improve to 4-0 with home clash against Carson-Newman

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 7, 2021

By Mike London

SALISBURY — After five weeks, Catawba football is still undefeated.

That would be outstanding under normal circumstances. The bad news is the Indians haven’t been able to play the last two weeks due to COVID issues.

So they’re only 3-0, and it’s a mysterious 3-0.

While Catawba’s hard-earned win over Barton (3-2) is looking better and better, the triumphs against Winston-Salem State (0-4) and  Erskine (1-4) are looking less impressive as the weeks go by.

Still, there’s no denying Catawba has put mighty good numbers on the stat sheet. Head coach Curtis Walker has to feel good about how far the program has come, especially when Catawba was picked dead-last in the South Atlantic Conference in the preseason.

But there’s still no way to know for certain that the Indians are for real.

There have been no road games. There have been no SAC games.

The Indians are scheduled to play a SAC game at home on Saturday, a 1 p.m. kickoff against old rival Carson-Newman, although Carson-Newman no longer looks much like Carson-Newman.

Yes, the Eagles still wear orange, white and blue uniforms, but they’re 0-4. That’s the worst start for the storied program in 62 years.

The Eagles are young and they are weakened by injuries. Chemistry has been elusive.

Catawba can relate. The Indians suffered through all those things on their way to a 1-10 season in 2019.

Catawba’s win probability for Saturday is listed by the Massey Ratings as 65 percent. The downside is that leaves a 35 percent loss possibility.

It’s possible this will be the last game Catawba is favored in all season. The Indians are scheduled to finish with Newberry, Mars Hill, Tusculum, UVA Wise and Lenoir-Rhyne. The SAC looks deeper than it’s been in some time, with several teams playing much tougher than expected. Catawba still could falter, although everyone expects the Indians to win some of those challenging  games and post a winning record.

Carson-Newman has been flattened by Wingate and UVA Wise in SAC games and also lost to Barton and West Georgia.

Stats help explain Carson-Newman’s struggles. The Eagles have turned it over 11 times and own a minus-6 turnover differential. That will get you to 0-4 in a hurry.

Catawba is plus-2 in turnover differential.

When it comes to converting third downs into first downs, a critical test of offensive efficiency, the Eagles rank 137th out of 163 Division II squads. They have a success rate under 30 percent.

That’s one of the areas in which the Indians have significantly improved. Catawba ranks 22nd in D-II with an excellent third-down conversion rate of almost 49 percent.

Catawba ranks 12th in Division II with 236 rushing yards per game, while the Eagles haven’t had any luck containing strong ground games.

That’s probably the key to victory right there. If the Indians can continue to roll on the ground, they’ll be 4-0.