The Keydets haven’t won since early in the 2016 season and will come into Saturday’s game hungry for a victory.
Their last win? It was a memorable one, a 37-7 thrashing of ETSU in the Bucs’ last visit to Alumni Memorial Field.
“Looking at that score, they beat us pretty well,” Sanders said Monday during his weekly news conference at Greene Stadium. “I’m sure they’re licking their chops for us to come to town, feel like they’ve got a great chance to get that monkey off their backs. It’s going to be a challenge.”
The challenge is set for Saturday at 1:30 p.m. in Lexington, Virginia. The game, ETSU’s Southern Conference opener, will be televised on ESPN+.
The 1-1 Bucs will be considered favorites, but Sanders said his team can’t take anybody lightly. ETSU beat the Keydets 24-6 last year in Johnson City and leads the overall series 14-9.
“We’re not at a point where you assume anything or you think any game is going to be easy,” Sanders said. “You have to show up every week and that’s our challenge.”
After playing in front of 96,464 fans last week in a 59-3 loss at Tennessee, the Bucs will be in an entirely different world on Saturday. VMI averaged 4,325 fans for its games last year. This will be the Keydets’ home opener.
“We’ll find out how mature they are, how mentally tough they are,” Sanders said about his players going from a huge crowd to a small one. “I can’t imagine us not being excited to play because you work all year long and you have only 11 guaranteed opportunities. And we’ve been through two of them. We only have nine more. To go out and play without energy and without passion, it would be pretty stupid.”
Much was said about Sanders returning to Tennessee, where he played and coached. The welcome back tribute played on the Jumbotron was a nice touch and he was still expressing his appreciation on Monday.
“I told Coach (Phillip) Fulmer I really appreciate the welcome back thing,” Sanders said. “I appreciate the tribute. They had to look hard to find clips of me playing, I can tell you that. It really meant a lot to my wife and my girls. I told Coach, I thought the thing was handled very, very well on their part. I appreciated that.”
VMI’S TOUGH START
The Keydets come into this week’s game 0-2, having lost 66-3 to Toledo and 59-14 to Wofford in their Southern Conference opener.
Sanders said he got a text from Randall Cobb on Monday morning. Cobb, the Green Bay Packers receiver who Sanders coached at Kentucky, scored the winning touchdown on Sunday night as the Packers roared back from 20 points down for a 24-23 victory over the Chicago Bears.
Cobb sent a photo of his newborn son lying with the game ball that was awarded to Cobb by the NBC television crew.