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Bucs head to Chattanooga in search of first SoCon win

Joe Avento • Oct 16, 2019 at 9:21 PM

CHATTANOOGA — Crunch time is here for the East Tennessee State football team, and getting that first Southern Conference win is job No. 1 this week.

The Bucs’ next chance comes Thursday when they face in-state rival Chattanooga at 7 p.m. at Finley Stadium.

ETSU comes in 2-4 overall, 0-3 and tied for last place in the SoCon. It’s not anywhere a team that shared the league championship last season wanted to be at the midway point.

“It's pretty important,” Bucs center Ben Blackmon said. “Every week’s important, though. Obviously the big goose egg sitting there kind of sucks, but we’re not going to treat it any differently.”

Chattanooga, on the other hand, has won its two conference games and brings an overall record of 3-3 into the game.

BACK TO BASICS

With a week off after their 35-17 loss to Wofford, the Bucs spent time getting healthy and working on fundamentals, something that sometimes gets lost as the season wears on.

“We tried to get back to some fundamental stuff, get back to some basic things,” ETSU coach Randy Sanders said. “You’re back to just doing the little things right. I’m not saying you ever let those things slip, but you get so busy game-planning sometimes that it’s good to have a week where the basics are your primary focus.”

MOCS BY THE NUMBERS

Chattanooga quarterback Nick Tiano has completed 52 percent of his passes with five TDs and seven interceptions.

Ailym Ford has been solid in the backfield with 557 yards and five touchdowns. He’s averaging 4.6 yards per carry.

Another player to watch is punt returner Brandon Dowdell, who averages 14.6 yards per return.

In six games, the Mocs have allowed just two sacks for a total loss of three yards.

CATCHING ON

Chattanooga’s Bryce Nunnelly has been Tiano’s favorite target — by far. He has 26 receptions for 355 yards and three touchdowns. He’s the only player on the team to have caught more than eight passes.

“I don’t see us specifically game-planning around a certain receiver just because he gets more catches and more yards,” ETSU cornerback Jeremy Lewis said. “Every team has their favorites. We can’t just game plan around someone else because they have four or five other receivers that can do the same thing he can do. It’s our job to go out there and lock up in the back end and wherever the ball’s thrown, make sure we come up with the ball instead of them.”

BUCS BY THE NUMBERS

Quay Holmes is eighth in the league in rushing at 416 yards and second in all-purpose yards at 134.7 per game.

ETSU leads the SoCon in pass defense, allowing 160 yards per game through the air. Artevius Smith leads the conference with three interceptions, all coming in the last three games.

Quarterback Trey Mitchell is fourth in the league in passing yards per game with 167.0. He’s completing 57.7 percent of his passes and has thrown six touchdown passes while being intercepted four times.

ARCH RIVALS?

For the fans, any time ETSU and Chattanooga get together in any sport, it’s a big deal. The only two SoCon schools in Tennessee even have the “Rail Trophy” to play for.

But for the players, the rivalry hasn’t exactly caught on.

“They are our in-state conference opponent,” Blackmon said. “So it is fair to say it's a rivalry. We kind of just look at it as another game on the schedule, the next opportunity. But I mean, I'm sure it's a huge rivalry for other people and others want to make a big deal out of it. We just go out and play and it’s just another game.”