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Strategy same for the Bucs: Limit Hodges

Jeff Birchfield • Nov 14, 2018 at 8:17 PM

JOHNSON CITY — East Tennessee State's strategy against Samford quarterback Devlin Hodges worked in 2016, but it didn't make much of a difference in 2017.

Regardless, it remains the same this season with the No. 17-ranked Bucs trying to keep the Southern Conference's all-time leading passer off the field. ETSU football coach Randy Sanders is no different than his predecessor Carl Torbush in wanting to limit Hodges' opportunities.

It's easy to understand why there is such an emphasis as the Bucs (8-2) try to win the Southern Conference championship outright against the Bulldogs (5-5) on Saturday at 1 p.m. at Greene Stadium. Hodges leads the league again this season, completing 348 of 497 passes (62.3 percent) for 3,879 yards and 32 touchdowns through 10 games. However, Sanders pointed out it's not just Hodges who has the Bucs’ attention.

"He has a lot of reps throwing the ball. He's experienced, but the thing that helps him out is he has good players to throw it to," Sanders said. "They got a really, really good receiving corps, and those guys like throwing it around and catching it. They do a good job running routes, they do a good job catching the ball. He does a good job getting it to them, and they do a good job of protecting the quarterback."

BIG NUMBERS AND AWARDS

Hodges, a 6-foot-1 senior from Kimberly, Alabama, is a two-time All-American and was a 2017 finalist for the Walter Payton Award, given to the most outstanding offensive player in the Football Championship Subdivision.

He is the two-time defending Southern Conference offensive player of the year. He had 4,088 passing yards in 2016 and 3,983 yards in 2017. For his career, he has 14,180 yards, surpassing Scott Riddle of Elon and Armani Edwards of Appalachian State earlier this season.

KEEP HODGES OFF THE FIELD

In the final game of the 2016 season at Science Hill High School's Kermit Tipton Stadium, the Bucs controlled the clock to take a 15-14 victory over Hodges and No. 14-ranked Samford.

ETSU limited Hodges to season-low numbers of 14 of 23 passing for 122 yards. Hodges had more success against eventual national champion Youngstown State and against SEC power Georgia than he did against the Bucs that season.

Overall, the Bucs ran 21 more plays and had an edge of more than 23 minutes in time of possession.

TURNOVERS AND OTHER SCENARIOS

Hodges got on track early in Samford's 42-7 win over ETSU at Birmingham last season. The Bucs had some early turnovers, leading to a pair of 5-yard touchdown throws that left the Bucs playing catch-up.

The Bucs ended up with four turnovers, while Hodges completed 20 of 32 passes for 261 yards and four touchdowns. It included a 75-yard touchdown play to Jai'Rus Creamer.

Like Sanders hinted at, Kennesaw State used another strategy in Hodges’ least productive game this season. The Owls focused on keeping the receivers in front of them. Hodges completed 21 of 34 passes against Kennesaw but for only 150 yards as the Owls took a 24-10 win over the Bulldogs.

However ETSU chooses to deal with Hodges remains to be seen, but limiting him, whether it’s in opportunities or yards, appears to be key to winning on Saturday.

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