East Tennessee State’s game at Virginia Military Institute has been moved from Saturday to Friday at 2:30 p.m. thanks to Hurricane Florence, and both teams were likely scrambling to change their preparation plans as soon as the announcement came on Wednesday afternoon.
The storm has forced several schedule changes in the Southeast, and even though Lexington, Virginia, is more than 300 miles from the North Carolina coast, the effects were expected to be severe enough to warrant the switch.
“It’s certainly a little bit different,” ETSU coach Randy Sanders said. “Typically when you play on a Friday, it’s on your schedule for Friday, not because it’s gotten moved up for a hurricane. I had a little experience with hurricanes last year at Florida State. I think we had two games postponed.”
It’s one of four games involving Southern Conference teams to be affected by the storm. Western Carolina’s game at Gardner-Webb has been moved to Friday night, Furman’s home game against Colgate has been canceled and The Citadel’s game against Charleston Southern has been rescheduled for Nov. 29.
“Unfortunately what we lose is that day of review that we usually have on Thursday,” Sanders said. “Thursday is a big work day. We run through a lot of plays and get a lot done.”
This week, the Bucs worked on the mental aspects of the game plan on Thursday without much physical work.
VMI comes in 0-2 and on a 19-game losing streak. They Keydets’ last victory was against ETSU in 2016, and the Bucs are using their memories of that day as motivation for Friday’s game.
“I don’t want to say that we overlooked them, but we kind of did because they didn’t have a good record at the time,” Bucs defensive end Nasir Player said. “Everyone was just like, ‘Oh, it’s just VMI.’ We were looking at the next week. We know we can’t do that this year.”
LINE NOT SO OFFENSIVE
The Bucs’ offensive line is coming together, and for the first time since the program was restarted, the team has seen some progress up front. They’re hoping to keep it going in the Southern Conference opener.
“We’re more confident,” center Matt Pyke said. “In fact, we’re embracing being more physical up front. Going up against our defensive line every day also makes us better, and some of us have been doing that for the last four years.”
Sanders, whose team is 1-1, pointed out that against Tennessee, the ETSU line opened some holes on running plays and protected the quarterbacks relatively well. The Vols recorded one sack and it came when Austin Herink was chased out of bounds for a loss of about half a yard.
“We’ve struggled with that in the past,” Pyke said. “We really put a lot of pressure on ourselves this year to really take pride in protecting the quarterback. We are being more physical up front.”
With Quay Holmes and Jacob Saylors getting the bulk of the carries, the Bucs’ running game is the best it’s been in years. The best news for the team? They’re both in their first year of college football.
Holmes, the starter, is a red-shirt freshman. Saylors is a true freshman.
Saylors was a defensive back and had an interception in one of the preseason scrimmages. The next week Sanders tried him at running back and he pulled off two long touchdown runs. Now that he’s a full-time running back, Saylors seems right at home.
“He’s just an athlete and needs the ball in his hands,” Player said.
Through two games, both are in the top 10 in the conference in rushing.
ETSU hasn’t won a Southern Conference road game since beating Western Carolina in 2002. …
After Friday, the Bucs return home for the next three weeks with games against Furman, Chattanooga and Gardner-Webb.