Gardner-Webb travels two hours west on Saturday to take on 2016 SoCon title contender Western Carolina. Kickoff is set for 6:00 pm at E.J. Whitmire Stadium/Bob Waters Field in Cullowhee, N.C. The game will be streamed live on the SoCon Digital Network. Brendan Boylan and Tyler Helms will also provide the call on wgwg.org.
Gardner-Webb and Western Carolina have met five times as senior colleges, with the Catamounts holding a 3-2 edge in the series, which started in 1983 ... The Catamounts advanced to the I-AA National Championship Game that season in Charleston, S.C. ... Gardner-Webb picked up its first win in the series in overtime, topping No. 25 Western Carolina by a 26-20 score in Boiling Springs on ... The two teams split a recent home-and-home set, with both winning on the road ... Gardner-Webb took a 27-20 win on September 9, 2009 in Cullowhee and Western Carolina took a 28-14 win on September 18, 2010 in Boiling Springs ... The two teams also met once during the 1930s, with Gardner-Webb Junior College taking a 23-7 win in 1932.
THE HEAD COACHES
Gardner-Webb head coach Carroll McCray (Class of '83) returned to his alma mater in 2013 and has forged a 16-20 record so far in his time in Boiling Springs. Western Carolina head coach Mark Speir has built the Catamounts program into a strong contender in the Southern Conference in his fifth season at Western Carolina (17-30 record).
AGAINST THE SOCON
Since moving to NCAA Division I prior to the 2000 season, Gardner-Webb has posted a 9-19 record against the Southern Conference. That has improved since Carroll McCray's arrival in 2013, with Gardner-Webb going 4-3 against the league since then – with two wins vs. Wofford (2013, 2014), one vs. Furman (2013) and one vs. VMI (2014). The losses came at Furman (2014), at The Citadel (2014) and at Wofford (2015).
Gardner-Webb's 31-6 win at Elon last week snapped a pair of recent trends. It marked GWU's first win in a season opener since August 31, 2013 vs. Furman (28-21 win) and marked the first road win in a season opener since September 2, 2006 at Jacksonvile (49-14 win). It was Gardner-Webb's first non-conference road win since a 47-41 overtime win at VMI on October 18, 2014. GWU had dropped six of its seven non-conference road games before beating Elon. Although the two teams haven't played often of late, it was GWU's first road win at Elon since 1992.
Gardner-Webb will take on three teams currently ranked in the STATS FCS Top 25 preseason poll, with three more games against teams currently receiving votes in that same tabulation. Three of the first four games are away from home – with the lone home game coming against No. 15 Citadel (9/17). After a trip to FBS Ohio, GWU will return home for a four-game homestand – but No. 17 Coastal Carolina (10/15) sits right in the middle of that stretch.
TURF THE REST OF THE WAY
Gardner-Webb will play each of its final 10 games in 2016 on artificial surfaces, four on the road and six at home in Ernest W. Spangler Stadium. The 10 games on artificial turf mark a single-season high for the Runnin' Bulldogs. GWU played its opener on natural grass at Elon (9/3)
THE GETER METER
Gardner-Webb linebacker Chad Geter (6-2, 253, R-Sr.) returns for his final season in the Scarlet & Black and got off to a strong start with five total hits (three solo) and a sack at Elon. The Irmo, S.C., standout was named preseason third-team All-America by STATS FCS and was a first-team All-Big South Conference selection in July. Geter was a close runner up to the league's preseason Defensive Player of the Year award and was recently one of only 34 FCS seniors named to the 2017 Reese's Senior Bowl Watch List. Geter, who ran the 40-yard dash in 4.65 seconds during offseason testing, led Gardner-Webb and ranked among the best in the Big South with 92 total tackles last season. He also led the squad with 13.5 tackles for loss and 5.0 sacks.
A LONG ROAD
Gardner-Webb has seen difficulty winning away from home, winning just five times in its last 23 road games. With its win at Elon (9/3), the 'Dogs have been victorious once on the road in each of the last three seasons, beating VMI in overtime (10/18/14) and dropping Presbyterian (10/31/15) in Clinton, S.C. The Runnin' Bulldogs will play only four more games away from home in 2016.
THE RED ZONE
Gardner-Webb had a field day finishing off drives Saturday at Elon, going 5-for-5 in red zone trips. Four of those trips ended with touchdowns, giving GWU one of its most successful days of late against an FCS foe. All four of those touchdowns came in the second half as the 'Dogs pulled away for a comfortable 31-6 win.
Gardner-Webb returns four starters on its offensive line for 2016 – right tackle Charlie Eudy (6-2, 280, R-So.), left tackle Will Millikan (6-3, 301, So.), center Caleb Smith (6-3, 330, R-Sr.) and left guard David Sutton (6-3, 303, R-Sr.). The quartet has now combined for 61 starts and more than 3,500 career snaps at GWU. Right guard Gabe Nold (6-1, 311, Sr.) has been neck-and-neck with newcomer Brayden Briggs (6-3, 300, R-Fr.) for a starting spot. Nold also has starting experience, earning extensive playing time at center during his 2013 freshman season.
Gardner-Webb added three FBS transfers during the summer months, all on the offensive side of the ball. Tight end Caleb Chapman (6-3 230, R-So.) transferred from Akron after playing quarterback for the Zips. Receiver Braylin Collins (6-1, 180, R-Fr.) transferred from Eastern Michigan. Quarterback Ramsey Rigby (6-1, 190, Fr.) spent the spring semester at Troy University as a reserve before deciding to join the Gardner-Webb program. Collins saw significant action in the opener at Elon, but did not catch a pass. He has worked with the starting offense in several packages.
Gardner-Webb has been blessed with a wealth of talent at the tight end position of late, with a GWU man earning a spot on the All-Big South Conference team consecutively since 2012 – Seth Cranfill (2012, 2014) and current starter Mike Estes (2013, 2015). Cranfill earned All-America honors from the Associated Press in 2014 and Estes enters his final season on track to duplicate that feat. The 6-foot-4, 240-pound Estes led GWU with four receptions for 37 yards at Elon (9/3) and now has 85 catches for 1,076 yards and eight scores for his career. His yardage and touchdown totals are tops in Big South history. He needs just five more receptions to catch former teammate Seth Cranfill for the all-time lead in that category.
DON'T OVERLOOK THE COOK
With Chad Geter garnering a truckload of preseason accolades, one could easily overlook another All-America caliber linebacker at Gardner-Webb. Aaron Cook (6-1, 235, Sr.) roams the BANDIT position opposite Geter in GWU's 3-4 scheme and has more than earned the right to call himself one of the nation's best. A two-time All-Big South Conference selection (2014, 2015), Cook led the team in tackles as a sophomore and totaled 77 more stops last season for a unit that ranked No. 13 nationally in total defense. The Edgefield, S.C., native was also a preseason All-Big South Conference choice by the league's head coaches in July.
THIS WEEK AROUND THE BIG SOUTH CONFERENCE
Saturday, September 10
#7/7 Charleston Southern at Florida State, 12:30 PM (RSN)
Presbyterian at #6/6 Chattanooga, 2:00 PM
Monmouth at Delaware State, 5:00 PM
Gardner-Webb at Western Carolina, 6:00 PM
Point at Kennesaw State, 7:00 PM (BSN)
Jacksonville at Liberty, 7:00 PM (BSN)
Running back Khalil Lewis (5-10, 215, R-So.) had positioned himself for a breakout season with hard work during the summer months, and that extra time paid off nicely in the season opener at Elon (9/3). Lewis scored the first three touchdowns of his career – all in the second half – to help GWU pull away in a 31-6 win. Lewis scored on runs of one, eight and 19 yards in the game. He carried 23 times for a career-best 109 yards as well, complimenting a powerful rushing attack for the Runnin' Bulldogs as they continue the transition to a spread option attack.
Quarterback Tyrell Maxwell (6-2, 220, Jr.) enjoyed another standout performance, becoming the first quarterback in Big South Conference history to post a third game with at least 100 yards passing and 100 yards rushing. The Edisto, S.C., native ran for 154 yards and a score on 21 carries and completed 12-of-19 passes for 102 yards vs. Elon (9/3). He also broke the GWU rushing record for quarterbacks, passing former starter Nick Roberts on that list. He now has 1,203 yards on the ground for his career – which ranks No. 7 in Big South Conference history for a career. The performance was his fourth 100-yard game, which is also a record for Gardner-Webb quarterbacks. Maxwell's rushing total was the second-best of his career and earned him Big South Conference Offensive Player of the Week honors for the second time in two seasons. He was also an honorable mention choice by STATS for its FCS National Offensive Player of the Week honor – also for the second time in two seasons.
THE BACK LINE
Gardner-Webb has a quartet of experience at the safety positon entering the 2016 season. Returning starters Spencer Havird (6-2, 202, R-Jr.) and Trey Lucas (5-11, 204, R-Jr.) played side-by-side for the bulk of the 2015 season, but classmate Thomas Adams (6-2, 199, R-Jr.) served as a de-facto third starter at times. One of team's best all-around athletes, converted corner Robert McKoy (5-11, 192, So.) also saw plenty of action at safety in 2015. The group was part of a GWU pass defense that ranked No. 7 nationally, No. 13 in total defense and No. 23 in scoring defense. Adams earned his first career start at Elon (9/3) with Lucas on the shelf with an injury – and played well. Young and swift corners Josh Carter (5-11, 186, So.) and Triston Dozier (6-0, 170, So.) also earned their first career starts at Elon (9/3) and performed very well.
Gardner-Webb opens its home schedule next Saturday, hosting No. 15 The Citadel at 6:00 pm in Boiling Springs. It will be the Southern Conference Bulldogs' first visit to Ernest W. Spangler and only the second meeting in the series. The game will air live on The Big South Network (bigsouthsports.com), with Fabian Fuentes calling the action. †
GAME NOTES: Gardner-Webb Travels To Western Carolina For Saturday Night Tilt (6:00 PM)