Bucs looking for a spark

By Matt Hill

   JOHNSON CITY -- East Tennessee State's contest with The Citadel may be on the small screen, but the Buccaneers' season has been anything but made-for-television.
   The Bucs are sitting at 1-3 overall and 0-2 in conference play heading into tonight's contest with The Bulldogs, which starts at 7. The game will be televised by CSS sports network.
   Everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong for the Bucs last Saturday at Appalachian State in a 33-14 loss to the Mountaineers. The Buccaneers looked flat on both offense and defense last week.
   "We did not play a good football game Saturday," ETSU head coach Paul Hamilton said. "I was not pleased with the execution of our team. The youth of our team showed with frustration."
   That frustration was shown by defensive back Tony Tiller. He was thrown out of the Appalachian State game for unsportsmanlike conduct, and has been suspended by the Southern Conference for tonight's contest. He will be replaced by John Boggs.
   "That was very unfortunate," Hamilton said. "We have never had a problem with him. Tony knows he was wrong. He told me when he went off the field that he was wrong. Tony will tell you right now that he should have maintained his poise. He got caught up in the emotions of the moment.
   The Bucs are going to need all the players possible for this one, as The Citadel has made great strides this year. They're 1-2 overall, but only lost to Appalachian State 8-6, and defeated South Carolina State 31-8 last week.
   "The Citadel is the most improved team in the Southern Conference this season." Hamilton said.
   Even though Paul Hamilton insists otherwise, the Bucs are right now caught up in a quarterback controversy. Jatavis Sanders has been threatening Matt Wilhjelm for the starting spot. But Sanders has a sore shoulder and may not be available tonight.
   Hamilton believes the two players are handling the situation well.
   "They're not concerned about who is playing," Hamilton said.
   If Sanders is healthy, expect both quarterbacks to receive some snaps tonight.
   "Both will play," Hamilton said. "I felt like both of them did some good things. It's hard to say that one is ahead of another. They actually may be at a point where if they both play, it could take some pressure off them."
   The biggest shake-up may be on the offensive line, as players like Gary Rivers, Mitch Hughes, Curtis Price, Zach Fuzzell and Rhett Landrum could get their golden opportunity against The Citadel due to the starters disappointing performance this year.
   "We've made it very competitive in practice for the starting positions," Hamilton said. "I feel like we have some kids that could be fine players."
   With the offensive line performing so poorly, Hamilton believes it will be a good thing to put some new faces up there.
   "Maybe we need to give some kids some life," Hamilton said. "Maybe we need to play two units. The level of practice has picked up at that unit."
   The Bucs are still trying to get a running game going. It has been nonexistent in early on.
   "We have to do some things that enables us to run the ball," Hamilton said. "We've got to find a way to get a simplified run game going."
   The Citadel has a pretty good running back in Maurice Murphy. He ran for 152 yards last week.
   "He's a strong running back," Hamilton said. "Our players have a lot of respect for him."
   Freshman quarterback Mazzie Drummond has been a pleasant surprise for the Bulldogs.
   "We probably would have recruited him if it wasn't for our situation at the quarterback position," Hamilton said. "But he makes plays."
   The Citadel's outstanding defense is led by All-American Travis Stephens, who recorded 144 tackles in 2000.
   "He's a good linebacker," Hamilton said. "He has good feet, gets out of the blocks quickly and makes a lot of plays."
   Last week, The Citadel held South Carolina State to four pass completions in 24 attempts. Strong safety Kevin Howard ended up winning the SoCon Defensive Player-of-the-Week for his efforts.
   The Bucs are looking to make a statement tonight. They want to show a regional television audience that they're a good football team.
   "I think you will see a different Buccaneer team Thursday night," ETSU running back Andrew Nuckolls said.
   Said Hamilton: "We just have to go to work. Our football team had a tough time coming off that loss. We're going to get it corrected."