Homecoming is supposed to be a time for celebration on college campuses.
East Tennessee State hopes to contribute to that joy on Saturday in Johnson City.
The Buccaneers will look to snap a four-game losing skid by playing host to The Citadel at Greene Stadium. Kickoff is slated for 3:30 p.m.
Despite the recent string of losses, ETSU junior linebacker Zack Yancey is plenty motivated for the Bulldogs.
“I mean, it depends on the individual,” Yancey said. “Me, myself, I’m just going to continue to work, but it’s up to people like me and Tre’mond (Shorts) just to keep those guys up, continue to motivate them to continue to work. We have to lead by example.”
It will be ETSU’s first home game since Oct. 5.
“It’s obviously nice to be home. Our home crowd has been awesome this year and they have been very supportive,” said ETSU head coach Randy Sanders, whose victories against Shorter and Austin Peay have been on friendly turf. “They’ve been all the way behind us and obviously we still need that.
“Our team’s still playing hard. The results haven’t been what we wanted, obviously, but the team’s playing hard and I hope the fans will show up and support these guys. They deserve the support.”
East Tennessee State (2-6, 0-5) is still looking for its first Southern Conference victory of the season, one year after sharing the SoCon title with Wofford.
“We have to keep believing in each other, and fighting, stringing together drives in offense, get stops on defense,” Yancey said. “You look at every game, we’re so close. Every game, it’s a couple plays here, a couple plays there. Like Coach Sanders said, we just have to finish and keep fighting.”
That is the plan for the Bucs, who are coming off a 24-17 loss at Samford, with the Bulldogs recovering a late ETSU fumble to secure the victory, leaving ETSU with a 1-4 mark in games decided by seven points or less.
One year ago, the Bucs were 6-0 in games decided by three points or less.
“It’s a fine line, and we’re close. “I told the team and hopefully they listened, keep believing,” Sanders said. “You can’t stop believing, because it’s right there. We all have to look at ourselves and what can we do better?”
The Citadel (5-4, 3-2) has won three straight, including last week’s 35-24 win over Mercer. The Bulldogs also have wins against Georgia Tech and FCS No. 8 Furman this season, along with a four-overtime loss to Samford.
ETSU, which is one of just three teams with a losing SoCon record, is currently tied with
Western Carolina at the bottom of the standings with an 0-5 league mark.
“It is really tough just knowing that we are almost there and a couple plays away from winning that game (at Samford),” ETSU sophomore offensive lineman Tre’mond Shorts said. “You see that they’re leading in the league and stuff and it’s very tough to see. We have been in just about every game we have played.”
Expect the Bulldogs to keep the ball on the ground with Brent Thompson’s triple-option attack, led by Brandon Rainey, who has run for 718 yards and 14 touchdowns and thrown for 575 yards and five more scores.
“Stopping this team takes a lot of discipline by a number of people. Guys have to have great eye discipline. I say it all the time, but they have to do their job,” Sanders said. “If you’re responsible for the dive, you better take the dive. If you’re responsible for the quarterback, you better take quarterback. If you have pitch, don’t get caught nosing around there on the quarterback, go play pitch. So that’s critical defensively.”
Yancey, a 5-foot-11, 210-pound junior from Opelika, Ala., has produced all season for the Buccaneers, currently sitting fourth in tackles with 44, along with five quarterback hurries. 4 ½ tackles for loss and a forced fumble.
“One thing for sure, it’s going to be tough. You have to sit back and be patient,” Yancey said. “Any three-back team is really tough. As linebackers and secondary you just have to be disciplined. We all need to do our jobs and we will be okay.”
The Citadel has been more vulnerable to the pass than the run on defense, but the Buccaneers continue to search for offensive consistency. ETSU hasn’t scored more than 17 points during its current losing streak, and the Bucs won’t get many chances against the Bulldogs.
“Offensively, we have to understand that you’re probably not going to get the ball 12, 13, or 14 times,” Sanders said. “You’re probably going to get it seven or eight so you better take advantage of those opportunities. It’s not a high possession game. They’re going to try to shorten the game, shorten the possessions, try to take advantage of what they do. We have to take advantage of ours…”
Shorts and the beleaguered ETSU offense knows it too.
“I won’t say it’s pressure, but it’s all about staying focused... Go out there and make sure that each drive counts, because you’re not going to get that many the way that they run the offense,” Shorts said. “So, you’re not going to get the ball. You’ll probably see the ball what, every 10 minutes. So, you’ll be on the sideline for a long time, because they run the ball and run the clock out.
“So, we need to make every possession count. I feel like every game you have to come with some energy. This game especially when you’re not getting the ball as much, and you just got to stay behind the defense, get them off the field, just encourage your guys.”
Yancey will do what he can to keep those around him focused on the task at hand.
“I’m different from a lot of the players out there in that I really don’t talk this much,” Yancey said.” So, what I just do, I just work. Hopefully the players just are looking at me during practice, just running full speed, sideline to sideline.
“That’s the way I lead, I don’t do too much talking. I just use my actions.”
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