After East Tennessee State’s 24-17 loss to Samford on Saturday, Sanders didn’t have to wait to watch the film to form an opinion of his football team’s effort.
“This is probably the angriest I’ve been after a game,” Sanders said. “I’ve been disappointed. I’ve been sick. I’ve felt bad. But this one I just wasn’t pleased with everything I saw.
“We’ve got to have way better focus, way better attention to detail, way better desire to get things done. That was probably the most disappointing thing to me. Whenever you lack that much focus, there’s a lack of desire in there to win the game. I was disappointed that we didn’t have a little more of that from some of our guys.”
The Bucs’ defense played well enough to win for the most part. After giving up a touchdown on Samford’s first drive — a possession that came after the first of three turnovers — ETSU held the Bulldogs scoreless through the second quarter.
The Bucs were leading 14-7 at halftime, but Sanders said a team with more of a killer instinct would have had led by a larger margin.
“I felt like if we had played anywhere close to our level in the first half, we could have been up at least two, maybe three scores,” Sanders said. “I don’t even know how to describe how we looked.
“We’re up. We have 30 more minutes. Let’s go play. But we might have played worse in the second half. It’s very disappointing.”
It’s tough to believe this is the same program that won a share of the Southern Conference championship and made the FCS playoffs last year. Now all those three-point wins look a little bit like fool’s gold as the close losses keep adding up. Maybe they weren’t good enough to really go 6-2 in the league. Maybe they got more than their share of breaks along the way, something Sanders readily admits.
If that was the case, maybe this year’s team isn’t as bad as its 0-5 conference record. Of the Bucs’ five SoCon losses, four have been close enough to where one play could have changed the outcome.
“Last year, we made the plays that won,” Sanders said. “This year we need to make the plays.
“It’s not a matter of luck. It’s a matter of doing your job and being where you’re supposed to be. We really had a chance to take charge of the game. We dropped balls. We missed a few open guys. We missed some blocks. We don’t hit the right gap on defense when we have to do it.”
The sad part about this season is another championship could have been up for grabs for the Bucs in what has turned into a competitive SoCon race. Six teams are within one game of first place in the standings and ETSU isn’t one of them. Instead, if the Bucs don’t right the ship in time for this week’s homecoming game against The Citadel, they could be playing Western Carolina on Nov. 9 in a battle of teams trying to stay out of the basement.
For ETSU, that could mean a “first-to-worst” season and that’s definitely something that wasn’t on the Bucs’ minds when they began with such high hopes.
“It’s very disappointing,” Sanders said.