The Bucs, ranked 25th nationally in the two FCS polls, play host to Western Carolina in a Southern Conference game. What is being called the “Blue Ridge Border Battle” is set to begin at 3:30 p.m. at Greene Stadium.
Western Carolina is 3-4 overall, 1-4 SoCon and averages 33 points a game. That’s nine more than an ETSU offense that has yet to find its stride, even during a five-game winning streak that ended last week.
“They have the ability to move the ball and score a lot of points on offense,” said ETSU coach Randy Sanders, whose team comes in 6-2 overall, 4-1 in the conference. “They have a couple of all-conference offensive lineman, an all-conference quarterback, an All-American tight end and an all-conference punter. They are a good football team.”
Western Carolina allows more than 40 points a game, something that has the Bucs chomping at the bit hoping they can get their offense on track.
“They are giving up almost 300 yards passing, so as a receiver that’s good to hear,” Bucs receiver Anthony Spagnoletti said. “But like Coach said, they have athletes on both sides of the ball. We’re not going take them lightly no matter how many points or yards they give up a game.”
Western Carolina blew the Bucs out in the second half of a 49-10 victory last year. The Catamounts led 7-3 at halftime before overwhelming ETSU with three touchdowns in the third quarter and three more in the fourth.
“Last year was not the outcome that we wanted,” ETSU quarterback Austin Herink said “It was a close game in the first half and watching the second half, it was a little painful and frustrating, because we had that game in a position where we could go win it. It just got out of control pretty quick.”
After playing against teams running triple-option offenses the past two weeks, the Bucs are happy to be facing a conventional offense.
The defensive players won’t be chasing and fighting cut blocks, so it’s obvious they’re happy. But Sanders says the offense benefits too by having more possessions.
“I think some of our offensive guys will appreciate it as much as anything else because you get more opportunities,” Sanders said. “The clock isn’t running. The clock isn’t ticking down and you have a few more possessions in the game, so it’s good to play a more conventional offense.”
Tyrie Adams makes the Catamounts go, so stopping — or slowing him down — is a priority for the Bucs. The junior quarterback is coming off a game in which he passed 360 yards and rushed for 185 more. His total of 545 yards was the third-highest output in Southern Conference history.
“We have to make sure everybody does their job,” ETSU linebacker Austin Gatewoood said. “We have to make sure we contain him with the pass rush. Then when we get there, we have to wrap him up and not let him squeak out and get 30 yards.”
Saturday’s 30-17 loss at Wofford was a wakeup call for the Bucs if they hope to stay in contention for the SoCon championship and a possible FCS playoff berth.
“It woke us up a little bit,” Gatewood said. “Coach Sanders talks about you play like you prepare during the week. I’m not saying we had a bad week, but it probably wasn't our best week of preparation. It probably acted as a little wake-up call — we might have needed it.”