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Bucs still searching for first SoCon win

Joe Avento • Oct 6, 2019 at 4:32 PM

As the college football season neared the midway point, East Tennessee State was still searching for its identity.

It’s starting to come to light, and after Saturday’s 35-17 loss to Wofford left the Bucs winless in the Southern Conference, it’s something coach Randy Sanders hopes to change.

“This team, for whatever reason, wants to sit around and wait for somebody else to do it instead of taking responsibility and doing it themselves,” Sanders said.

“That’s the way the first half was. They wanted somebody else to make a play instead of them having to strain and do it themselves.”

ETSU won a share of the conference championship last season and as the losses pile up, that is beginning to feel like it was more than a year ago. Sanders said these Bucs need to be more like last year’s team.

“For the most part, they took accountability for themselves,” he said of the team that went 6-2 in the SoCon. “They were tired of losing after the previous three years and wanted to win.

“I think our guys want to win, but I don’t know that they hate losing as much as they need to at this point. If we don’t get it fixed, they’ll figure out what it’s all about.”

There’s no doubt the talent is there. When things are going well, the defense can stop anybody and the offense has shown some flashes.

It’s just a matter of doing more on a consistent basis. That’s where this team has been lacking six games into the season. ETSU is 2-4 overall, 0-3 in the SoCon.

“I think we can use this game to realize how when we play consistent, good football, we can be a good team,” ETSU quarterback Trey Mitchell said. “But also if we don’t and keep making mental errors, we can get beat by anyone.”

One thing has been consistent for the Bucs in recent weeks. Artevius Smith has turned into an interception machine.

The senior safety got an interception for the third consecutive game, picking off a Joe Newman “Hail Mary” pass in the end zone on the final play of the first half.

The play didn’t seem too significant at the time, considering the Bucs were behind 28-3. But it became more important as ETSU began the second half with two touchdowns to climb back into the game.

There was no miraculous comeback, though, as Wofford finally put together a long touchdown drive to put the game away.

ETSU has the week off before returning to action with a Thursday night game at Chattanooga on Oct. 17. While the time off could be good for the Bucs, giving them time to rest and get better on the practice field, Sanders says he’s not so sure.

“Personally, I would rather go play,” he said.

The week off might give the Bucs a chance to reset and get ready for the rest of the season. Last year, the bye week fell right before the end of the regular season and gave the team a chance to get ready for the FCS playoffs.

This year, that doesn’t seem to be part of the equation. Instead of thinking about the postseason, the Bucs have to figure out how to win a game.

“I expect them to respond well,” Sanders said. “I think we have a lot of guys made of the right stuff.

“Who do we have on our schedule that isn’t good? It’s one battle after another. We have to make up our minds and go do it.”

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