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Citadel’s option attack major challenge for ETSU

Joe Avento • Nov 2, 2019 at 10:30 AM

JOHNSON CITY — East Tennessee State’s offense hasn’t been very efficient this season and that better change if the Bucs are to have any chance against The Citadel on Saturday when the Bulldogs visit Greene Stadium for a Southern Conference football game.

It’s ETSU’s homecoming game and the Bucs are still looking for their first league victory. Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m.

“We have to understand that you’re probably not going to get the ball 12, 13 or 14 times,” ETSU coach Randy Sanders said. “You’re probably going to get it seven or eight, so you better take advantage of those opportunities. It’s not a high-possession game. They’re going to try to shorten the game, shorten the possessions, try to take advantage of what they do. We have to take advantage of ours.”

The Bulldogs play to keep the ball away from the opposition, grinding out yards with time-consuming drives that often wind up in points and always wear down the other team’s defenses.

How well do they play that game? They’ve had the ball for 63% of the time this season and lead the SoCon in time of possession.

“We have to go out there and make sure that each drive counts, because you’re not going to get that many the way they run the offense,” ETSU offensive lineman Tre’Mond Shorts said. “You’re not going to get the ball. You’ll probably see the ball what, every 10 minutes? You’ll be on the sideline for a long time because they run the ball and run the clock out. We need to make every possession count.”

The Bulldogs use a three-back option attack to keep the ball and keep the clock running. They’re third in the conference in rushing at 270 yards per game.

Quarterback Brandon Rainey has called his own number enough to have scored 14 touchdowns on the ground. He’s also thrown for nine.

“Stopping this team takes a lot of discipline by a number of people,” Sanders said. “Guys have to have great eye discipline. I say it all the time, but they have to do their job. If you’re responsible for the dive, you better take the dive. If you’re responsible for the quarterback, you better take quarterback. If you have pitch, don’t get caught nosing around there on the quarterback, go play pitch. So that’s critical defensively.”


If the Bucs can survive for a half on defense, they will get some much-needed help after halftime.

Defensive end Nasir Player, who was ejected for targeting in last week’s loss at Samford, will be suspended for the first half but will be eligible to play beginning in the third quarter.


ETSU is hoping for better results than the last time it faced an option team. Wofford rushed for 409 yards in a 35-17 victory over the Bucs at Greene Stadium last month. The score was 28-3 at halftime before the Bucs made a game of it in the final two quarters.


ETSU (2-6, 0-5) has 18 touchdowns this season. That’s tied for the worst total in the league with Western Carolina, the other team without a conference win. ETSU has nine rushing touchdowns this season. The Citadel has 26.

The Citadel (5-4, 3-2) is one game behind co-leaders Wofford and Furman in the SoCon standings.

The Bulldogs’ highlight win this season was a 27-24 overtime victory against Georgia Tech. In typical Citadel fashion, the Bulldogs completed only one pass in that game and it went for a 30-yard touchdown.


What a difference a year makes. Last year the Bucs went to Charleston, South Carolina, nationally ranked and beat The Citadel 26-23 to move into sole possession of first in the SoCon standings.

“Defensively, we did a great job last year,” Sanders said. “We stopped them a couple of times on fourth down, created some opportunities. I know we had a pick-6 there late in the game. If you can create some turnovers, get some stops like that, it can put them behind the 8-ball because they throw the ball OK, but that’s not their forte.”