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Samford’s return game from the bye week will be on the road against an East Tennessee State football team that looks different from the one that won the Southern Conference a year ago.

“They’ve had their troubles a little bit this year, they got a brand-new coach,” said Samford coach Chris Hatcher. “No two teams are ever the same. They still have great players. For us, right now, we’re just focused on being really good at what we do with the formula of playing really good defense [and] being able to run the ball effectively. [It] has worked thus far. We continue to hope it will work again this week.”

Hatcher and his staff had to study a little harder to prepare for this one, with George Quarles and a new staff taking over for the retired Randy Sanders. In four seasons at ETSU, Sanders had two SoCon championships and a pair of FCS playoff appearances.

Quarles steps in after spending the past five seasons as the offensive coordinator and quarterback coach at SoCon member Furman. Before that, he was a Tennessee Hall of Fame high school coach at Maryville High. In 18 years as the head coach at Maryville, he compiled a 250-16 record with 11 state championships. His teams also had a 74-game winning streak at one point. Current UAB quarterback Dylan Hopkins played for Quarles at Maryville.

Quarles's first season as a college head coach has included adjustments for his team. The Buccaneers are 3-4 overall, with a 1-4 SoCon record. ETSU has run the ball well with Jacob Salyers (768 yards, 11 touchdowns), but a pair of Buccaneers quarterbacks have thrown 10 interceptions. Defensively, ETSU has an All-American defense back in Alijah Huzzie (45 tackles, 4 interceptions, 11 pass breakups, 11 pass deflections), but the Bucs gave up 383 yards passing and 219 yards rushing in a loss to No. 11 ranked Mercer last week.

Samford had an extra week to work on the game plan. They should be fresh, prepared and ready to go after the bye.

“[We got] some mental rest from having played six straight weeks of football and you add four more on to that for camp,” Hatcher said. “It came at a good time. Early in the week, the guys seemed to come back fresh and relaxed. We’re excited to play. Any time you take a bye week, you look forward to it, and then Saturday rolls around and you’re not sure what to do because you feel like you’ve got to play. We got a tough one this week.”

Even though the staff is new, Hatcher knows what to expect at William B. Greene Jr. Stadium.

“It’s their homecoming game; they’ll have a tremendous crowd; they have a great venue,” Hatcher said. “One of the better stadiums in our league. They’re very physical in what they do offensively. Defensively, they’re very aggressive, they blitz a lot. I have great respect for what they do and they’re used to winning. They play very tough at home, so we have to go play to the very best of our ability if we’re going to come home with a big victory.”

Samford is 2-1 on the road with wins over Tennessee Tech and Furman and a loss to No. 1 ranked Georgia.  

To connect with the author of this story, or to comment, email steve.irvine@1819news.com.

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