Bucs offense looks to get rolling

By Matt Hill
STAR STAFF
mhill@starhq.com

   JOHNSON CITY -- When the East Tennessee State Buccaneers and the Gardner-Webb Bulldogs meet on Saturday night in Boiling Springs, N.C., it will be a contest between two teams that are hungry for better results.
   Gardner-Webb is coming off a 56-0 defeat to Georgia Southern, while the Bucs beat Division II Mars Hill 20-10 in a game that might as well have been a loss.
   The Bucs were outgained in total offense by the Mountain Lions, and the game was a 7-7 deadlock going into the fourth quarter.
   Other things that went wrong happened to include two fake punts by Mars Hill for first downs.
   Needless to say, ETSU head coach Paul Hamilton wasn't pleased.
   "I don't think there's any question as we all know that we didn't play a very good football game," Hamilton said.
   The offense, as most ETSU fans know by now, has been very stagnant. The lack of offensive production forced Aaron Bass to punt eight times on Saturday night.
   Hamilton has had a very hard time deciding on a quarterback this season. Jason Davis started for the Bucs on Saturday night, but only played a grand total of eight snaps.
   Jatavis Sanders and Dashannon Gamble received most of the snaps against the Lions, but it looks like Hamilton has decided to go with Gamble for the game Saturday night.
   Gamble was 2-of-2 passing against Mars Hill, and also had 38 yards on the ground.
   It looks like Hamilton may be ready to go with Gamble for the long haul, and end the quarterback carousel.
   "Based on the way he came in and played in the ball game, we've got to prepare him this week to get ready and go play. He played a pretty good football game Saturday night."
   Gamble is pretty much an option quarterback, and some have doubted his ability to throw.
   Hamilton thinks that Gamble put all that to rest Saturday night with his 38-yard touchdown pass to Cecil Moore that pretty much sealed the game.
   "I think the throw he made in the fourth quarter the other night, if we had made those types of throws a couple times earlier on some post routes, we probably would have never been in that position to begin with in the game," Hamilton said. "I think we've got to give him an opportunity to see if he can make those throws, because right now, he probably brings more to the table if he can make those throws."
   Hamilton sees the need for consistency at the quarterback position.
   "I think we've got to get consistent play at quarterback," Hamilton said. "Regardless of the ability level at quarterback, you've got to put a kid out on the field that you know what he's going to do every snap, and you have a pretty good feel of what you're bringing to the stadium. That's been probably the most frustrating thing throughout all this with our quarterbacks is developing consistency and developing a guy that we know where he's coming from on what he's going to bring us every Saturday."
   When the Bucs take the field on against the Bulldogs, they will be looking for better production out of the offensive line. The Bucs so far this season have given up 26 tackles that ended up in negative yards.
   Even Coach Hamilton was unaware of the stat.
   "I need to go back and study that," Hamilton said.
   But Hamilton doesn't blame his offensive line for all of the offensive futility so far. He thinks dropped passes by receivers and mistakes by the quarterbacks have a lot to do with the problems.
   "The offensive line doesn't have anything to do with overthrown passes," Hamilton said. "They don't have anything to do with dropped passes. I think if you sit down and evaluate the game tape, you would see that if we just seize some of the opportunities we had in the football game with our skill people that we would have scored some points the other night. I think that our offensive line is going to do some good things this year."
   The defense is the strong point of the team, but right now four starters are currently injured. Those include defensive back Tony Tiller, linebackers Marco Bryant and Mike Cornegay, and defensive end Travis Williams.
   But despite the injuries and two key late interceptions in the Mars Hill game, Hamilton is not exactly extremely thrilled with how the defense is playing at this point.
   "We have not arrived there yet, either," Hamilton said. "We've got areas there where we've got to pressure the passer better. We didn't get a whole lot of pressure on the quarterback. We've got to get better there. We're going to practice this week to try and work to get better."
   The Bucs seem to be in disarray going into this contest, but Gardner-Webb probably won't be brimming with confidence after getting blown out by Georgia Southern last week.
   Hamilton is aware that Gardner-Webb will be ready.
   "Offensively, they've really done some good things over the last several years," Hamilton said. "They run a no-huddle offense. They spread you out in a lot of formations. The quarterback is the same kid that played against us last year and I thought he really played a fine ball game. He understands how to throw the football. They do a nice job as far as mixing the run and pass. They do some good things offensively.
   "Defensively, they ran into a buzzsaw Saturday night down there in Statesboro. That was a tough go for them, and that was not easy for them to go play against that type of offense. I know this, they've got to be very enthused about us as a Southern Conference team coming into their place and playing at their home stadium. We beat Georgia Southern last year, so they've got to be pretty enthused about us coming in there and playing them."
   Kickoff is set for 6 p.m.
   GAME NOTES
   * If your making the trip to Boiling Springs on Saturday, be sure to take a walkman. Greeneville resident Frank Santore, who is known by many in these parts as the voice of the Elizabethton Twins, is the play-by-play man on the Gardner-Webb radio network.