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Keeping Hodges off the field has to be Bucs' priority

Jeff Birchfield • Updated Nov 8, 2017 at 5:56 PM

The strategy is simple for the East Tennessee State football team Saturday when its travels to Birmingham, Alabama, to take on No. 14 Samford — keep the Bulldogs’ quarterback Devlin Hodges off the field.

It was the same strategy which the Bucs employed last year to pull off a 15-14 upset in Johnson City. In that game, ETSU had time of possession for 43:47, which limited Hodges to season-low numbers of 14-of-23 passing for 122 yards.

Hodges, a junior, was named the Southern Conference Offensive Player of the Year last season, after completing 375-of-530 passes for 4,088 yards and 36 touchdowns, all school records.

To put what ETSU did against him in perspective, Hodges had better numbers against eventual national runner-up Youngstown State with 372 yards and three touchdowns.

Even Georgia, the No. 1 ranked team in the FBS, couldn’t completely shut him down this season as he went 26-of-35 for 227 yards and two touchdowns in a 42-14 loss.

Hodges’ best game statistically came in a different battle of the Bulldogs. He had a career-high 468 yards and four touchdowns in a 56-41 loss to Mississippi State last season.

He passed for nearly 5,000 yards in three seasons as his high school starting quarterback in Alabama, but redshirted his freshman year. Once he got on the field in college, he’s proven to be nearly impossible to stop.

On Oct. 7, he became Samford’s all-time leading passer in a 26-7 win over VMI which his younger brother, Duncan, was the Keydets’ starting quarterback.

For this season, Devlin Hodges has completed 263 of 393 passes (66.9 percent completion rate) for 3,021 yards and 24 touchdowns.

Get Smart

The game against Georgia came about in part because Samford coach Chris Hatcher gave Kirby Smart his first coaching job as a defensive backs coach.

Hatcher, who became Samford’s head coach in 2015, was an assistant at Valdosta State under current Washington State coach Mike Leach.

It’s not a surprise with Hodges’ success as Hatcher has a well-earned reputation for developing quarterbacks. At Central Florida, he coached longtime NFL quarterback Daunte Culpepper and as an assistant at Kentucky, he coached All-American Tim Couch, the No. 1 overall pick in the 1999 NFL Draft.

We Lost To No. 1

Both Samford and ETSU can say they’ve lost to the current No. 1 team in the country, and it was different opponents. Samford had the aforementioned 42-14 loss at Georgia. Back on Sept. 9, ETSU lost 52-10 at James Madison, the top-ranked team in the FCS rankings.

Hatcher about ETSU

Samford is 6-3 overall and 4-2 in the Southern Conference, while ETSU is 4-5 and 2-4. The Bulldogs were ranked No. 18 last season when the Bucs pulled off the upset.

Hatcher’s description of the Bucs could have easily been ETSU coach Carl Torbush talking about the Bulldogs.

“They’re extremely well coached,” Hatcher said. “Like every week in this conference, you have to be ready to play. All of us are about the same and this week’s no different. They have a really good quarterback. Defensively, they show you a lot of different looks.”

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