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ETSU takes on The Citadel and its challenging option attack

Joe Avento • Oct 13, 2018 at 12:30 PM

CHARLESTON, S.C. — The view from the top is nice, but East Tennessee State will have to fight hard over the next few weeks to remain on its lofty perch in the Southern Conference football standings.

The Bucs (5-1, 3-0) are off to their best overall start since 1999 and the intensity is about to increase. Their winning streak has reached four games and with each victory, the next game becomes more important — and more difficult.

“We’ll find out a lot the next couple weeks,” coach Randy Sanders said.

Up next for the Bucs is The Citadel (1-3, 1-2). The teams meet Saturday at 2 p.m. at Johnson Hagood Stadium in Charleston, S.C.

It will be the first of consecutive games where the Bucs take on an option team. They play at Wofford the following week.

“The thing that’s really difficult to replicate in practice is sometimes the amount of cutting, where the linebackers get cut and the defensive linemen get cut, and just the nature of that offense,” Sanders said. “It’s certainly legal. It’s not illegal. It’s not dirty football or anything like that. That’s just the way they play football with that offense. It’s the part that’s hard to replicate because obviously you have to practice it and your guys have to get used to playing those type of blocks. You don’t want to do it so much that somebody goes into the game limping.”

Sanders said with at least two option teams on the schedule, the Bucs actually began working on defending The Citadel and Wofford during preseason camp.

“We worked on defending the option because we knew these weeks were coming,” he said. “It’s hard to get prepared in just one week. It takes some time. So if you don’t start early and you don’t build it into what you’re doing, it’s certainly more difficult.”

Depending on what happens Saturday, the Bucs’ game against Wofford game could be for first place in the SoCon. ETSU and the Terriers are the only two teams without a conference loss. Wofford plays Furman on Saturday.

ETSU made an appearance in the national rankings this week, at No. 23 in the STATS FCS poll and 24th in the coaches’ rankings. Sanders says he’s not interested in the polls while the season is still in progress.

“I will look at them at the end of the year,” he said. “I try to control what I can control. I don’t have a vote. All it does is put a target on your back. It’s nice to be recognized for what you’re doing, but big picture ... it’s not going to help us win Game 7.”

After ETSU beat Gardner-Webb on Saturday, a game in which Quay Holmes and Jacob Saylors both broke the 100-yard rushing mark, Holmes said he didn’t know the last time ETSU had been 5-1.

Holmes was born in 1998, a year before the last 5-1 Bucs team. 

That’s how rare the air is around the program these days. At least one of the players responsible for the start wasn’t even around the last time it happened.

“We’re getting better but we’re not where we need to be as a football team yet,” Sanders said. “The challenge is how good can we be.”

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