SoCon Football 2016: ETSU In Search of First 2–0 Start Since 1999
EAST TENNESSEE STATE (2–0, 1–0 SC)@ WOFFORD (2–1, 0–0 SC)
WHEN: Sat, Sept. 24, 2016
WHERE: Gibbs Stadium (13,000), Spartanburg, SC
KICKOFF TIME: 1:30 p.m.
SERIES: ETSU 13, Wofford 11
LAST TIME THEY MET: WOFFORD 28, ETSU 14/Nov. 8, 2003
STREAK: Wofford has won five-straight over ETSU
PREVIEW: For the first time since Jonathan Godfrey’s 22-yard game-winning field goal to help the ETSU Bucs down The Citadel, 16–13, in overtime at the mini-dome back during the 2003 season. That would mark the Bucs’ final football for another 12 years, ETSU was able to notch a third-straight league win, with a thrilling 34–31 win over I-40 rival Western Carolina last Saturday at historic Bristol Motor Speedway.
Prior to meeting The Citadel in 1999, the Bucs reeled off a 68–7 win over Chattanooga at the mini-dome. It was hard to believe the football program, at least at the time, was in shambles financially. However, the a win Saturday against the Terriers would mark a fourth-straight in the SoCon. In fact, the Bucs haven’t lost a SoCon game since losing to Wofford, 28–14, in Spartanburg in what was the Bucs’ last SoCon road tilt prior to this Saturday some 13 years later.
Wofford, meanwhile, dusted off Johnson C. Smith, posting what was a resounding 59–0 win over the Golden Bulls. The Terriers rolled up 330 of their 482 yards of total offense on the ground.
WHO TO WATCH FOR ETSU: The biggest weapon offensively this season for the Bucs has been quarterback Austin Herink, who comes into the contest having thrown 485 yards, three TDs and no picks in the first two games of the 2016 season. Despite having played one less game than most everyone in the league, Herink ranks third in the SoCon in passing average.
The Bucs are also strong at the skill positions, including running back Jajuan Stinson, who has rushed for 181 yards and a pair of TDs in the first two games of the season. He has done that on just 41 attempts, averaging an impressive 4.4 yards-per-carry — something predecessors such as Brandon Walker (1996–99) and Brian Edwards (1993–96) would be impressed with.
At wide receiver, the Bucs have done an excellent job spreading the football around, with four wideouts having made at least five catches through the first couple of weeks. The leader in terms of receptions is Vincent Lowe, who has hauled in nine passes for 83 yards and a TD through the first two games, while Dalton Ponchilla leads in yardage, hauling in seven passes for 99 yards. Chris Pritchard also has six catches for 92 yards through the first couple of games for the Blue and Gold.
ETSU is a place, which over the years in its previous membership in the SoCon (1977–2003), saw the Bucs produce some of the league’s finest wideouts, such as B.J. Adigun (1997 Southern Conference Male Athelte of the Year) and Jeff Johnson (1993–96).
Defensively, the player to keep your eyes on Saturday will be linebacker Dylan Weigel, who has posted 20 tackles, 1.5 TFL and has a fumble recovery in the first two games of the campaign.
Wofford has battled adversity due to injuries already in 2016, having seen their leader — quarterback Evan Jacks — go down with a season-ending injury in fall camp. That left the door open for Brad Butler to win the job, and he has helped lead the Terriers to wins on the road at Tennessee Tech and at home against Johnson C. Smith last Saturday.
Butler is an intelligent, savvy veteran that understands Wofford’s wingbone concept well. His 138 yards through the first three games of the season ranks third on the team, and would rank second to only Mercer’s John Russ in total rushing yards through the first three weeks of the season. His four rushing scores this season is tied with Western Carolina’s talented running back Detrez Newsome for most rushing scores in the SoCon through the first three weeks.
As a passing threat this season, Butler has connected on 18-of-24 throws for 194 yards and a TD this season. Not bad for a quarterback in an offense that rarely throws the football. However, Wofford has been at its best in the past when it has had the threat of the big play in the passing — think Andy Strickland (2004–07) and Brenton Bersin (2009–12) — and the Terriers have already seen some big plays in the passing game this season.
The Terriers have four pass plays in excess of 20 yards so far this season, with Chandler Gouger leading the way at wideout, having hauled in three passes for 49 yards and a TD, while Nick Colvin also has 49 yards receiving on just four receptions.
Lorenzo Long is a veteran running back, who could be a real threat to produce Wofford’s first 1,000-yard running back in a single season since Eric Breitenstein graduated back in 2012. Long has put together a strong career at Wofford and enters Saturday’s contest against the Bucs with 269 rushing yards and three TDs on just 49 attempts this season — that’s an impressive 5.5 YPC. Long’s 269 rushing yards through the first three weeks ranks tops in the SoCon.
Also keep an eye on local product Will Gay. The former T.L. Hanna standout has shined early on in his senior season for the Terriers, as the Terrier halfback has posted 217 rushing yards on just 19 attempts. That averages out to a whopping 11.4 YPC.
Defensively, Wofford was at its strongest last season against the run. Think about this stat. The Terriers produced their best defense in school history against the run. That includes that 2003 unit, which had the likes of defensive lineman Lee Basinger and standout safety Matt Nelson.
This season, the Terriers have been up to their old tricks again, ranking second in the league in total defense, surrendering just 258.3 YPG this season. The biggest key for Wofford this season diced up by the spread offenses in the SoCon, which have given the Terriers their share of struggles over the past four seasons. The Terriers appear to be improved against the pass, surrendering 180.7 YPG through the air to rank fifth in the SoCon, while the 77.7 YPG given up on the ground ranks second to only Chattanooga. The Terriers also rank second to only Chattanooga in scoring defense, surrendering just 15.0 PPG.
The top player on the defensive side of the football for Wofford heading into Saturday is free safety JoJo Tillery, who enters the contest against the Bucs with 23 tackles and a tackle-for-loss.
DID YOU KNOW: Wofford head coach Mike Ayers — the longest tenured coach in the league, as he is now in his 29th year at Wofford and 32nd year overall as a head coach, started his career at ETSU, where he coached three seasons before moving on to Wofford.
Ayers presided over the Bucs football program from 1985–87 and helped ETSU to one of its most memorable wins as a program, as he helped the Bucs to a 29–14 win in Raleigh. Ayers has won 198 games as a head coach heading into Saturday’s contest against the Bucs.
On the other side of the football is Carl Torbush (22–35/7th year). Yes, the Carl Torbush that back in 1999 — when ETSU was busy ascending the Divsion I-AA poll early in that particular campaign under then head coach Paul Hamilton — Torbush could only watch in horror on Tobacco Road, as Southern Conference member Furman handed his North Carolina Tar Heels a 28–3 setback at Kenan Stadium.
WHO WINS: Wofford 38, ETSU 28