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Overtime loss exposes ETSU’s problem areas

Douglas Fritz • Sep 16, 2019 at 12:33 AM

JOHNSON CITY — In the final analysis, this was a game East Tennessee State should have won.

And the end result could follow the Bucs for the rest of their Southern Conference season.

The 31-24 overtime decision against Virginia Military Institute finished early Sunday morning at Greene Stadium after a pair of lengthy delays pushed the game past midnight.

Along the way, ETSU had these unsettling moments:

• An 8-yard punt that did not appear to be affected by a significant rush.

• ETSU kicked off five times and three of them went out of bounds.

• A missed 40-yard field goal attempt with 2:27 left in the game that would have forced VMI to go for a touchdown in the final seconds instead of a field goal that forced overtime.

• Missed throws to wide-open receivers.

• Dropped passes despite on-target throws, including one in the end zone in overtime on third down that could have tied the game.

• An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that forced a kickoff from the ETSU 20-yard line before VMI’s game-tying drive in the fourth quarter.

“Obviously our kicking game has to get a whole lot better,” said ETSU coach Randy Sanders. “It looked like we were running half-speed to cover a punt one time.

“This year we’re not nearly as good (on special teams). Part of it is we had an older football team last year. This year we’ve got a lot of young guys and newcomers on those teams. They’ve got to grow up fast, and we’ve got to make them grow up fast.”

Looking at the aforementioned list, there are two significant reasons those things can happen. It’s early in the season, and the game was a disjointed mess because of the delays.

Sanders said his team didn’t bring the fire it needed from the get-go, however.

“I thought honestly we started really flat, and I thought we played really flat until somewhere there in the third quarter,” Sanders said. “Especially on offense. I thought it took a long time to get our focus and get our energy. There wasn’t a lot of juice.”

It was different story on the defensive side of the ball. The Bucs started strong, dominating in the first quarter.

“I thought defensively we started very well until we had that first lightning delay,” Sanders said. “(The Keydets) kept the drive alive and went down and scored at a time when I thought we had a chance to take momentum.

“We came back out and gave up big third downs. Playing man coverage, you’ve got to maintain your lane integrity in the pass rush. Obviously we didn’t do that. We let the quarterback out and he scrambled for a big first down. He made a couple of nice throws and they converted some third downs.”

Sanders’ Bucs are back in action this Saturday when Austin Peay visits for a nonconference matchup. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.

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