Gardner-Webb opens on the road for the third season in a row when it visits Elon on September 3. Kickoff is set for 3:30 pm in Rhodes Stadium, a venue not visited by the Runnin' Bulldogs since its inaugural season in 2001. Saturdays game will be televised by ASN, with Dan Armstrong and Rich Baldinger calling the action. Coverage clearance for the game is available in 43 states and Puerto Rico. Brendan Boylan and Tyler Helms will provide an audio call on wgwg.org as well.
Gardner-Webb and Elon have met 30 times previously, with the Phoenix holding a 21-9 advantage in the series ... A triple overtime battle ensued last September 12 in Boiling Springs, with Elon getting a touchdown in the second overtime and picking off a last-ditch pass to win the game 21-13 ... Each of Gardner-Webb's nine wins in the series have come in the past 18 meetings ... GWU won four consecutive games in the series from 1985-1988 ... The current home-and-home series marks the first consecutive meetings since the early 2000s, when the schools played for three-straight years ... Gardner-Webb and Elon played for 26 consecutive seasons (1969-1996) as members of the NAIA and NCAA Division II.
THE HEAD COACHES
Gardner-Webb head coach Carroll McCray (Class of '83) returned to his alma mater in 2013 and has forged an 15-20 record so far in his time in Boiling Springs. Elon head coach Rich Skrosky is in his third season in charge of the Phoenix after serving in a coordinator role at both Ball State and Elon previously.
AGAINST THE CAA
Gardner-Webb is 2-3 against CAA Football (former A-10) since moving to Division I prior to the 2000 season. Gardner-Webb knocked off #23 New Hampshire, 38-35 (Nov. 11, 2000) in its first season, lost at Old Domion, 14-7 (October 2, 2010) and split two meetings with Richmond. GWU defeated the #11 Spiders, 12-10 (September 15, 2013) in Spangler Stadium. GWU dropped its meeting with Elon last season (Sept. 12, 2015).
Gardner-Webb has dropped two-straight season openers, losing at No. 18 Furman (2014) and at South Alabama. The program's last win in a season opener came in 2013, knocking of Furman in current head coach Carroll McCray's debut as his alma mater's head coach. That victory jump started the 'Dogs to a 4-1 start – with consecutive wins over No. 11 Richmond and No. 8 Wofford – and a top-25 national ranking. Since moving to NCAA Division I in 2000, Gardner-Webb is 10-6 in its season openers (3-5 on the road).
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. 16 Coastal Carolina (10/15) sits right in the middle of that stretch.
Gardner-Webb will play 10 of its 11 games on artificial turf, with all 10 of those contests coming in consecutive weeks. The lone game on grass comes in the season opener at Elon. GWU has forged a 9-6 mark on natural grass since 2013 – which was the final season the home surface at Ernest W. Spangler Stadium was natural itself.
THE GETER METER
Gardner-Webb linebacker Chad Geter (6-2, 253, R-Sr.) returns for his final season in the Scarlet & Black, and enters 2016 with a stockpile of preseason accolades. 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 four times in its last 22 road games. The 'Dogs have been victorious once on the road in each of the last two seasons, beating VMI in overtime (10/18/14) and dropping Presbyterian (10/31/15) in Clinton, S.C. The Runnin' Bulldogs will play only five times away from home again in 2016.
THE RED ZONE
Gardner-Webb limited its 2015 opponents to a simple 31.0 percent in red zone touchdown percentage and only 69.0 percent overall in the red zone (20/29). The 'Dogs forced opponents into 11 field goals during red zone opportunities and ranked No. 19 nationally last season in Red Zone Defense according to final NCAA statistics.
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 combined for 57 starts and 3,381 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. Both Chapman and Collins have made appearances on the depth chart already, with the speedy Collins working as a starter in some formations.
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 enters his senior campaign as the Big South Conference's career leader in receiving yards (1,039) and touchdowns (8) for a tight end. He ranks second – to Cranfill – in career receptions at the position (81) and needs only nine more to catch his former running mate.
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
Thursday, September 1
Presbyterian at Central Michigan, 7:00 pm (ESPN3)
Saturday, September 3
Kentucky State at #6/7 Charleston Southern, 11:45 am (BSN)
Liberty at Virginia Tech, 12:30 pm (ACC Network)
Monmouth at Lehigh, 12:30 pm
Gardner-Webb at Elon, 3:30 pm (ASN)
ETSU at Kennesaw State, 7:00 pm (Peachtree TV/BSN)
Buzz around the program during the offseason centered near many of the improvements, gains and increases in speed and strength noted by the performance staff for several players. Running back Khalil Lewis (5-10, 215, R-So.) made the most of his gains during preseason camp, cementing his role as the top ground option in Gardner-Webb's spread option attack. The Hilton Head Island, S.C., native dropped his 40-yard dash time to 4.42 seconds – and packed on more than 10 pounds of muscle – after missing the bulk of last season with an upper body injury. Lewis applied for a medical redshirt as a result, and is poised for a breakout campaign in 2016. He was highly recruited as a prep senior at Hilton Head (S.C.) High, garnering offers from FBS programs Florida Atlantic, Buffalo and UMass after rushing for 3,082 yards and 32 touchdowns over his final two prep 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.
SPEED TO BURN
Gardner-Webb has increased its overall team speed significantly, with a handful of current starters lowering their 40-yard dash times into the 4.4-range – with some going even faster. Running back Elijah Perry (5-8, 175, So.) was clocked at 4.34 seconds during offeseason testing, making the Apex, N.C., native the fastest man on the roster. Receiver Kyle Horton (5-11, 170, So.) has been blazing fast since his arrival on campus from national power Mallard Creek (N.C.) High and showed his speed once again in offseason testing by running a 4.36-second time in the 40. Both Horton and Perry will be heavily involved in the GWU return game in addition to their regular duties on offense.
Gardner-Webb remains on the road, as it faces Southern Conference contender Western Carolina on September 10 in Cullowhee. Kickoff is set for 6:00 pm and will mark the first visit to Bob Waters Field at E.J. Whitmire Stadium for the Runnin' Bulldogs since 2009. †
GAME NOTES: Gardner-Webb (0-0) Heads To Elon (0-0) Saturday For 2016 Season Opener