Nathan Storch

The Citadel freshman fullback Nathan Storch (46) has rushed for 175 yards in two games this spring. Citadel Athletics/Provided 

The bad news started last August, when 34 players were absent for the first day of practice, and really hasn't let up since.

Forging ahead with football despite the coronavirus pandemic, The Citadel lost all four games in the fall with a depleted roster due to COVID-19 opt-outs. Three of those games were against FBS squads, including then No. 1-ranked Clemson.

This spring, the roster has been further stripped by injury and suspensions, with 26 players caught up in a bookstore snafu that ran afoul of NCAA rules.

The Bulldogs gave up 75-yard touchdown passes on the first play of their first two games this spring while going 0-3, running their record for 2020-21 to 0-7 and their losing streak to nine straight, the program's longest since 1995.

No wonder coach Brent Thompson was looking for some silver lining this week as the Bulldogs prepare to host ETSU at 1 pm. March 20 at Johnson Hagood Stadium.

"We need to search for some of the positive things that have gone on," Thompson said. "There are a couple of positives amongst all the negative things that have gone on here."

In that spirit, the view through Bulldog blue glasses:

• Freshman fullback Nathan Storch has carried the ball 52 times in his first two college games, gaining 175 bruising yards up the middle. That included 33 carries for 125 yards in last week's 21-14 loss at Western Carolina.

The 6-0, 230-pound Storch, filling in for injured junior Clay Harris, did not fumble in his first start against Chattanooga. But he fumbled twice against WCU, the second one setting up a Catamounts TD.

"I was surprised to see how well we were able to get Nathan Storch going," Thompson said. "He had 33 carries and didn't have one negative yardage play. He is a true freshman walk-on, and has exceeded all my expectations, and he's going to continue to get better. As I said on Saturday, we can win with guys like that."

• Sophomore linebacker Anthony Britton Jr. slid over to replace injured All-American Willie Eubanks Jr. at middle linebacker against WCU, and made 16 tackles with a pass breakup. The 6-2, 230-pounder has a team-best 61 tackles this season.

"Anthony had a good day, as did (linebacker) Marquise Blount," Thompson said. "Marquise didn't have as many tackles, but he played extremely hard and was probably some of the reason Anthony had all those tackles."

• Freshman Wilson Hendricks III made his first start at cornerback, and the 6-1, 200-pounder made six tackles.

"I think the future's bright for him, either at corner or safety," Thompson said. "He did a good job, made some really key tackles and didn't let anything get over the top of him, so I was happy to see that."

• Defensive starters Dalton Owens (nose tackle), Andy Davis (safety) and Destin Mack (cornerback) will return to the lineup after serving their one-game bookstore suspensions against WCU.

"I think we're turning the corner right now," Thompson said. "We're going to start to get some guys back and get some more guys healthy. And when we get all those guys back, it's going to be a good roster again. It might not be until August, but it's certainly going to be a stronger roster than we've had this spring.

"It's not exactly the roster we'd like to have, but it's what we've got and those guys are fighting their butts off."

In the meantime, the Bulldogs will try to snap their skid against ETSU (1-1), which did not play in the fall and this spring has beaten Samford, 24-17, and lost to Furman, 17-13.

Junior running back Quay Holmes (6-1, 213) has 192 yards and three TDs in two games, averaging 5.2 yards per carry. Freshman quarterback Tyler Riddell (5-11, 174) has hit 60 percent of his passes for 393 yards, with one TD and one interception, in two games. Mike Price, a transfer corner from Appalachian State, is the top tackler with 19 stops.

Reach Jeff Hartsell at 843-937-5596. Follow on Twitter @Jeff_fromthePC