Game Preview: VMI looks to rebound Saturday against East Tennessee State

vmi-footballVMI football was thisclose to a 3-1 start. A 10-yard touchdown pass from Al Cobb to Ryan Swingle with 19 seconds left put the Keydets up 30-27 on Mercer.

The Bears had no timeouts, and the VMI kickoff, short of the end zone, forced another six seconds off the clock.

Basically, one tackle, the game is the over.

Mercer executed a hook-and-ladder play to perfection, got some help with a late-hit penalty, and tied the game with a 42-yard field goal on the final play of regulation, en route to winning the game in overtime.

And so, the Keydets (2-2, 0-1 SoCon) are looking to dust themselves off, get off the deck, and get their first conference win on Saturday at Foster Stadium against visiting East Tennesee State (2-2, 1-2 SoCon).

ETSU was blown out last weekend, 37-7, by #3 Chattanooga.


Getting to know: East Tennessee

Offense has been a weakness for the Bucs, who average 250.5 yards per game, and gain just 96.2 yards per game on the ground, 2.7 yards per carry.

East Tennessee is scoring just 15.2 points per game in 2016.

Quarterback Austin Herink has thrown for 603 yards in four games, completing 67 of his 104 pass attempts (64.4 percent) for three touchdowns with one interception.

Two receivers are in double figures in catches – Dalton Ponchilla (13 catches, 10.5 yards per catch) and Vincent Lowe (12 catches, 7.9 yards per catch).

Jajuan Stinson leads the team in rushing, with 228 yards and 3.8 yards per attempt. Falon Lee is the changeup back, gaining 4.0 yards per carry in limited action.

The defense has been gashed a bit this season, giving up 29.2 points and 385.5 yards per game. The Bucs have been susceptible to big plays against the run (4.2 yards per opponent rush) and through the air (opponents average 12.4 yards per completed pass).

Dylan Wiegel (37 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss) is the leading tackler for the ETSU defense. Jason Maduafokwa (three sacks) and Kahlil Mitchell (two sacks) lead the pass rush.

Punter Marion Watson is average (37.1 yards per punt, eight of his 25 kicks downed inside the 20).

Placekicker J.J. Jerman is 4-for-4 on field-goal attempts, with a long of 43.


Getting to know: VMI

VMI averages 387.8 yards and 23.5 points per game. Quarterback Al Cobb has thrown for 1,000 yards through four games, completing 107 of his 164 pass attempts (65.2 percent), with five touchdowns and three interceptions.

Despite efforts to get the running game going in 2016, the Keydets are averaging just 2.8 yards per carry. The featured back is Daz Palmer (206 yards, 3.8 yards per carry). Quan Myers is the short-yardage guy (76 yards, 2.9 yards per carry) who scored three touchdowns in last week’s OT loss.

Aaron Sanders is having another solid season at receiver, with 38 catches (8.1 yards per catch). Dane Forlines is dangerous in the slot (22 catches, 12.1 yards per catch).

Swingle at tight end is a good safety valve for Cobb (14 catches, 10.5 yards per catch).

The VMI defense gives up an eye-popping 447.8 yards per game, but while it bends a lot, it doesn’t break as often as the numbers would suggest (giving up 27.5 points per game).

The Keydets have forced seven turnovers in their first four outings, which helps.

The run defense gives up 4.1 yards per carry, which is not good. The pass defense gives up 287.0 yards per game, again, not good.

Linebacker Ryan Francis is the playmaker (43 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, four sacks).

You’ll also hear the name of fellow ‘backer Allan Cratsenberg a good bit (39 tackles, 3.5 TFL, one sack).

Punter Bill Hogan had a punt blocked last week, setting up a short field for an early Mercer TD. He averages 36.8 yards per kick, and has placed three of his 22 kicks inside the 20.

The placekicker duties may be up in the air. Reed King had an extra-point blocked, which obviously came back to haunt the Keydets late, and he was replaced in the second half by veteran Dillon Christopher, who made a short field goal and an extra point as VMI rallied late.

Christopher is also a weapon on kickoffs, with 10 touchbacks on his 18 kickoffs in 2016, including one last week after a VMI touchdown on which the Keydets were penalized 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct, pushing his kickoff point to the 20.

Preview by Chris Graham

augusta free press

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