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Opponent Defense Preview: East Tennessee State

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...wait, ETSU has a player who was literally on the 2014 Temple team?

East Tennessee State v Tennessee Photo by Donald Page/Getty Images

As I’m writing this on Tuesday afternoon, East Tennessee State hasn’t released a depth chart for Saturday’s game, which is making my job harder. So I started going through their team site and noted the return of their leading tackler, Jared Folks. Jared Folks had 50 tackles in last year’s COVID-shortened spring season, with four tackles for loss, a sack, and four quarterback hurries. Folks was named a third-team FCS All-American by Phil Steele last season, and for this season is on Steele’s second-team All-American list.

And then I clicked his profile, and I saw this.

OH GOD MY HET.

First of all: wait, that guy is literally in his eighth year of college football? But second of all, ETSU’s star defensive player was on the 2014 Temple team. Yes, he was present (okay, he technically might not have been, since he was redshirting he might not have traveled) for the het-wettening. Who the hell scheduled this game? (The answer, of course, is somebody who did not foresee COVID-19 happening and assumed this guy would not be in college any more.)

Anyway, so that’s East Tennessee State’s star linebacker. What else?

Well, three more players made Phil Steele’s preseason All-SoCon teams: DB Tyree Robinson (37 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 4 PD) is on the first team, while LB Donovan Manuel (44 tackles, 6 TFL, 3.5 sacks, 2 INT) made the second team and DB Alijah Huzzie (42 tackles, 2 TFL, 3 INT) made the third team. Appalachian State transfer Mike Price (48 tackles) was the team’s second-leading tackler and will probably be another starter in the defensive backfield.

And since this is an FCS team, the place to look for impact players is usually the handful of FBS transfers on the squad. Tulane transfer Ton’Quez Ball barely played for the Green Wave, but he was the #145 cornerback prospect in the Class of 2019 — a talent level that’s usually not seen in FCS. (If you’re morbidly curious, starting Vanderbilt cornerback Jaylen Mahoney was ranked four spots ahead of him in the same class.)

Notice I haven’t mentioned the defensive line much. ETSU’s defensive line doesn’t have a single player who merited a spot on Phil Steele’s preseason team. Again, look to the FBS transfers for potential impact players: Liberty transfer Austin Lewis has FBS size (6’6”/270) and actually started two games for the Flames last season and could be an immediate impact player on ETSU’s defensive line. Aside from him, though, ETSU has a lot of freshmen with FBS size but there’s, uh, probably a reason they ended up at ETSU and not a bigger school. 6’3”, 260-pound Max Evans (not that Max Evans) was a SoCon All-Freshman selection last season and is probably the best of the returnees; he had two sacks in the spring.

Overall, there’s nothing that really scares me about ETSU’s defense: while the Bucs had a good unit for the FCS level in spring 2021, allowing 113 points in six games, there’s no particular reason why their defensive front shouldn’t get pushed around by Vanderbilt’s offensive line. If Vanderbilt is struggling to put points on the board on Saturday, this is going to be a long season. (You already knew it was going to be a long season.)