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Bucs' secondary to be challenged against VMI passing attack

Joe Avento • Sep 11, 2019 at 11:05 PM

JOHNSON CITY — The ball will be in the air Saturday night when Virginia Military Institute visits Greene Stadium to take on East Tennessee State in a Southern Conference football game, and that suits the players in the ETSU secondary just fine.

“Going against a team that passes primarily throughout the game is something that the secondary looks forward to,” ETSU senior cornerback Jeremy Lewis said. “I know that the guys in the back end are definitely going to lock in and be looking forward to making opportunities when they come to us. Being in the SoCon, you don’t really have that many teams that like to air it out. You have Samford, Chattanooga and VMI. So when you get that chance, you want to be able to show them what we’re made of, wanting to be the best secondary in the conference.”

Two games into the season, no SoCon team has thrown more than VMI. The Keydets have put it up 84 times in a loss to Marshall and a victory over Mars Hill.

Four years ago, during ETSU’s first season back in the Southern Conference, VMI beat the Bucs 37-7. During that game, Lewis was summoned into action for the first time during his freshman year. He gave up a touchdown on his first play.

“It’s hard to forget being thrown into the game like that,” Lewis said. “I mean it came as a shock, being a freshman and having to play right off the jump like that. However, I feel like I’ve really gotten into a comfortable position in trusting my coach and trusting my teammates to make plays. They boost me and I boost them. I feel like I’ve come a long way from that first play against VMI in my freshman year to now in my senior year.”

Lewis also had an interception in that first game. He added another interception against VMI last season.

In fact, the Bucs picked off five passes against the Keydets, and they needed every one of them in a 27-24 victory.

VMI has one of the top quarterbacks in the SoCon in Reece Udinski, who passed for more than 3,000 yards last year. The Keydets’ fortunes will hinge on the 6-foot-4, 224-pound junior’s arm.

“I think the quarterback is much better than he was last year at this time and the same thing with his receivers,” ETSU coach Randy Sanders said. “Our secondary is a veteran group, and they’ve seen a lot of game action and a lot of good passers. This is going to be a good test for them. They need to show up.”

Karon Delince, MJ Woods and linebacker Jared Folks also had interceptions against VMI last year.

Of course the secondary’s job could be a lot easier if the ETSU pass rush comes to play like it did last year when the Bucs sacked Udinski eight times.

“We’ve also got to do a good job rushing the passer and affecting the quarterback,” Sanders said. “You don’t always have to sack him, but we need to have an impact on him, whether it’s moving him off the spot or make him throw a little quicker than he wants to.”