Eagles tall order for Buccaneers

By Matt Hill
STAR STAFF

   JOHNSON CITY -- Even though there is a former East Tennessee State football player currently appearing on the hit television series "Survivor," the current Buccaneers are probably facing tougher elements in their quest to be the team left standing Saturday night.
   That's because the No. 1 team in Division 1-AA is making a visit to Memorial Center this weekend. Southern Conference heavyweight Georgia Southern will take on the Bucs at 7 p.m. Saturday in a game to be televised by CSS Sports Network.
   "There's no doubt they're certainly the top of the league when it comes to I-AA football period," ETSU head coach Paul Hamilton said about the Eagles. "I think they set a standard for everybody else to try to reach. Every phase of their program is first class."
   These two teams come into this contest heading in opposite directions. Georgia Southern is 7-0 overall and 5-0 in the SoCon, while ETSU is 2-4 overall and 1-3 in league play.
   The Bucs are coming off a 31-6 loss to Furman last Saturday in Greenville, S.C. In that contest, 2000 Walter Payton Award winner Louis Ivory rushed for 146 yards.
   It doesn't get any easier this week.
   The Buc defense will be going up against 1999 Walter Payton Award winner Adrian Peterson this Saturday night. The fullback has 926 yards on the ground, and is averaging nearly six yards per carry.
   "I think he's one of the best players to come through college football at any level," Hamilton said about Peterson. "He has a desire to win and shows a commitment to excellence each and every Saturday."
   The Eagles are also talented at quarterback with J.R. Revere usually manning the controls, but Revere has been injured and is questionable for the game with ETSU.
   Revere missed last week's contest with The Citadel, leaving backup Melvin Cox to run the explosive option offense. He ran 13 times for 101 yards in the Eagles surprisingly narrow 14-6 win over the Bulldogs.
   "The problem wasn't Melvin Cox, it was just that their offense wasn't out on the field as much as they're used to," Hamilton said. "I thought he played very well, and if he had gotten more snaps he might of had 200 yards rushing. Melvin Cox is a good football player, and in their system he can handle and execute what they ask him to do very well."
   Even though it's still unclear who ETSU will see, the Bucs are going to be prepared to face the usual starter.
   "I think we certainly have to be prepared to play against J.R. Revere," Hamilton said. "I think we have to expect him to play in the ball game. I'm sure if he has the opportunity to play, he would probably like to play in this football game."
   On defense, All-American tackle Freddy Pesqueira heads up a unit that is one of the best in America.
   "I think their defense is the best they've been since Paul Johnson's been there," Hamilton said. "It's pretty obvious when you watch them run defensively that they look like a 1-A type football team with the speed that they play with on defense."
   ETSU could have a very hard time against that defense. What was predicted be an explosive offense has only averaged 13.2 points-per-game.
   The Bucs will continue to go with Matt Wilhjelm as their starting quarterback even though he has the lowest pass efficiency rating in the league. There has been a lot of talk about Hamilton sticking with the former Science Hill standout over N.C. State transfer Jatavis Sanders, but Hamilton believes it's real simple.
   "The other guy is not as good in practice," Hamilton said.
   There has also been a lot of grumbling about the lack of involvement in the offense from wide receivers Tim Turner and Charvin Clark. Cecil Moore is leading the SoCon in receptions with 32, but just as capable Clark and Turner have been non-existent this season.
   "That's something we have addressed," Hamilton said. "We need to spread the ball around more. If we're going to be winners, we need to get Tim and Charvin more involved."
   The Bucs running game has been slow in getting off the ground this year, but Hamilton was very happy with Corey Carter's performance against the Paladins. Carter netted 47 yards on eight carries Saturday.
   "He played at a level that we all had hoped for," Hamilton said. "He seems to be playing with a lot more confidence."
   The defense will have to play a stellar game against Adrian Peterson and company, but Hamilton is pleased with their progress, too.
   "I feel like our defense really competed in the Furman game," Hamilton said. "Furman started inside the 50 on seven drives, so I feel good about the effort."
   It will take a huge game by the Bucs for an upset to occur, and Hamilton knows what he is up against.
   "We have not played them very well over the last several years," Hamilton said. "I don't think you ever have to worry about when they play us whether they're going to come play. They always give us their best shot."