Last year, ETSU overcame a sloppy game to hold on for a 27-24 victory over the Keydets. It set the stage for the Bucs to go on to share the conference championship and taught them how to win a close game. That was something they took to heart for the rest of the season.
By the end of the year, ETSU was 6-2 in the SoCon and none of the wins was by more than three points.
“I think VMI was our first conference game last year that set the tone for what we needed to improve on,” Bucs offensive lineman Cameron Parker said. “I think this year it’s going to be the same thing. These guys are going to come in here expecting to win. They’re going to come in here ready to fight and expecting to win so we have to be ready.”
Saturday’s game is set to kick off at 7:35 p.m. Both team are 1-1 with the Bucs losing 42-7 to Appalachian State and beating Shorter 48-10. VMI has lost to Marshall and beaten Mars Hill.
Trey Mitchell will be making his second start at quarterback for ETSU after looking comfortable and confident last week in a 48-10 victory over Division II Shorter.
Mitchell has completed 76.5 percent of his passes since coming in to relieve the injured Chance Thrasher against Appalachian State. That’s tied for first in the conference with Samford’s Chris Oladokun.
There was some question about Mitchell’s knee after he left the field against Shorter wearing a knee brace, but he practiced this week and was still listed as No. 1 on the depth chart. Backup Cameron Lewis is expected to see some time at wide receiver in addition to handling the backup quarterback duties.
An interesting fact: None of ETSU’s four touchdown passes have been caught by a wide receiver. Tight ends have three and a fullback has the other.
THE PLACE TO BE
Another big crowd is expected Saturday. Last week, 8,615 people were on hand to see the Bucs beat Shorter. It was the fourth-largest crowd in Greene Stadium history and its was the ninth sellout in 13 games played at the stadium.
As of Friday, ETSU had sold the final 75 tickets it had on hand and was in the process of selling tickets for the grass hill and the 200 tickets VMI turned back in.
Reece Udinski, VMI’s quarterback, has thrown for 456 yards and five touchdowns in his first two games. The Bucs had five interceptions and eight sacks last year against Udkinski and the players in ETSU’s secondary are excited for this week’s challenge.
“I would hope they’re excited about it,” ETSU coach Randy Sanders said. “If you’re a secondary guy, it’s got to be more fun playing against a passing team than a running team. Just like if you’re a quarterback, it’s a whole lot more fun to throw it than it is hand it off.”
Without those interceptions and sacks, last year’s game would have probably turned out differently. The Bucs led the SoCon last year with 15 interceptions, but have none this season. They’ve gotten one turnover, a fumble after a sack against Shorter.
“That’s one thing we need to do a better job of defensively is creating turnovers,” Sanders said. “I think our defense is playing hard. They’re doing a good job, but part of their responsibility is to get the ball back.”