Defensive end Nasir Player sees another key to repeating that 15-14 upset against this year’s No. 14-ranked Bulldogs.
“The biggest thing last year is nobody really panicked,” Player said. “Once we were down, nobody felt like we were going to stay down. Everybody had confidence that we were going to be able to fight through it and come back. Everybody needs to make sure we know that it’s not over until it’s over. We can always come back and fight. The biggest thing about last year, nobody gave up, everybody fought until the very end.”
JJ Jerman kicked a 28-yard field goal as time expired to lift the Bucs on a cold and rainy day in Johnson City. This time, with Saturday’s game in Birmingham, Alabama, temperatures are forecast in the 60s.
Regardless of the conditions, keeping Hodges, the 2016 Southern Conference Offensive Player of the Year hemmed in, will be a top priority. The Samford offense is averaging 416 yards and 28 points per game.
“The defense has to make sure we keep him contained,” Player said. “He’s not really that big of a runner, but he can make stuff happen with his feet. As long as everyone does what they’re supposed to do, that shouldn’t be a problem for us.”
Sixth ranked opponent
ETSU enters this year’s game 4-5 overall and 2-4 in the Southern Conference. Samford is 6-3 and 4-2, but continues a trend of ranked opponents.
All five of the Bucs’ losses have come against top-25 teams, including No. 1 ranked and defending national champion James Madison.
“We have played the eighth toughest schedule in the nation,” ETSU coach Carl Torbush said. “We have played five teams ranked in the top 25 and we will play our sixth one this week. It’s going to be tough year in and year out, but that’s just the way it is. Playing in the SoCon makes it that way because there’s always going to be three of four teams in our conference that are ranked. Then you play teams like James Madison, that makes for a tough grind.”
Offense turns to defense
In last year’s win, the Bucs had the ball over 43 minutes to easily win the time of possession. It resulted in Hodges having his lowest passing total of the year with just 122 yards.
However, wide receiver Vincent Lowe said there isn’t more placed on the offense this week than any other week to score points or keep the Bulldogs off the field.
“I wouldn’t say it puts more pressure on us,” Lowe said. “I feel like every week we have the same mindset, to go out there and do what we do as a unit. We really don’t let anything put pressure on us. We had a tremendous frontline that’s really grown, matured and stepped up this year. I feel like on the offensive side of the ball, we should move the ball very well against them.”
Opportunities for the Bucs
While Samford’s offense has put up big numbers, the Bulldogs defense is also giving up over 400 yards per game.
It could present some good opportunities for ETSU to move the ball.
Quarterback Austin Herink has been effective, completing 155-of-259 passes (59.8 percent) for 1,982 yards.
The ground game, however, has been anemic, with the Bucs gaining only 685 yards on 319 attempts, an average of just 2.1 yards per carry through the first nine games. That equates to just 76 yards per game.
This is the Bucs’ chance for a breakout as Samford is allowing 196.3 rushing yards per contest.