A four-game losing streak has left the Bucs tied for last place in the Southern Conference and Sanders is trying his hardest to remain optimistic.
“It’s a fine line and we’re close,” Sanders said Monday. “I told the team — and hopefully they’ve listened — to keep believing. You can’t stop believing, because it’s just right there. We all have to look at ourselves and think what can we do better. Immature guys are going to look around and try to point fingers and say ‘It’s his fault.’ Mature guys are going to look within and say ‘What can I do better? Where can I improve?’ ”
ETSU plays host to The Citadel on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. in a Southern Conference game.
The Bucs come into homecoming weekend 2-6 overall, 0-5 in the SoCon. The Citadel, meanwhile, brings a 5-4 overall mark and is 3-2 in the conference. The Bulldogs beat Georgia Tech earlier in the season and have won three games in a row.
While The Citadel is still fighting for the SoCon crown in what has turned into a tight race at the top of the standings, the Bucs are just trying to win a game. Sanders has preached a familiar refrain all season: The next play can be the one that wins the game.
“The difference between winning and losing is just one or two or three plays,” he said. “It’s not the big things. It’s the minor details, the small details. That’s probably the thing that’s been so difficult to deal with this year because I’m a detail guy. Little things drive me crazy because if you don’t take care of little things they become big things.”
HOME SWEET HOME
The Bucs will finally have a home game after playing two in a row on the road. It will have been 28 days between home games. They hadn’t played at home since Oct. 5 when they lost to Wofford.
“It’s nice to be home,” Sanders said. “Our home crowd has been awesome this year, been very supportive and behind us. And we still need that.
“Our team’s still playing hard. The results haven’t been what we wanted and I hope the fans come and support these guys. They deserve their support.”
ETSU has averaged 8,839 fans in four home games this season. That’s more than Greene Stadium’s capacity of 7,400.
ETSU will play without senior defensive end Nasir Player, the SoCon’s preseason defensive player of the year and an all-conference pick last season. He was ejected from last week’s 24-17 loss to Samford for targeting.
Sanders was blunt when asked how the team will handle Player’s absence.
“Put his butt on the sideline and put somebody else in,” he said. “We have to get ready. Obviously, he’s a good football player. We need him. It’s going to affect us not having him out there, but it’s next man up.”
Freshman quarterback Tyler Riddell made his first appearance on Saturday. Sanders said he expected Riddell to play more than the one series he got, but the conditions, which fluctuated between slightly rainy and downright miserable, caused a slight change in plans.
“He’s not the biggest guy, doesn’t have the biggest hands,” Sanders said. “He throws a dry ball much better than a wet ball. The game was there for us. If we didn’t make the big mistakes, we were going to be OK. I made that decision. I expect Tyler to play more going forward.”