With both Eastern Illinois and Ohio in the early stages of what seem to be down years (though 1-0 against opponents in their respective conferences) the Panthers and Bobcats enter Saturday afternoon's contest ready to duke it out. EIU is a year removed from losing former head coach Dino Babers (to Bowling Green) and stud quarterback Jimmy Garoppalo. Ohio comes in to this matchup still trying to find an offensive rhythm. It doesn't help the Bobcats' chances that they enter minus their starting QB, redshirt junior Derrius Vick, who sustained a knee injury last weekend against Idaho.
Notes For Ohio
Redshirt sophomore JD Sprague will step into Vick's shoes for this weekend's game, and for the immediate future as Ohio bides its time with Vick's injury. Sprague enters this week having played QB for a decent number of snaps for Ohio already. He has reps, and Ohio worked him alongside Vick in the preseason. Sprague has taken advantage of those reps, having played extensively in the second half against Kentucky and in the second half against Idaho. Sprague is 25-46 overall passing, and 344 yards and has scampered for 91 yards.
Ohio has received offensive production from a number of young sources, most notably from true freshman AJ Ouellette. The sturdy 5-foot-10, 195-pound back bowled his way to 132 yards on 27 carries and played at times while obviously tired and dazed. Much has been placed on the shoulders of Ouellette as the running back corps have struggled to hang onto the football.
Receivers like Landon Smith (who should be back this week after an absence last week), Sebastian Smith and Brendan Cope have stepped into the limelight. Senior Chase Cochran established a connection with Sprague in the win over Idaho and likely will seen the ball slung his way a bit more.
On the defensive side of the ball, even as the highly-touted Tarell Basham has remained relatively quiet on the defensive front, guys like Quentin Poling have stepped into the limelight. Poling, who has played middle linebacker since the injury of starter Ben Russell, produced a 14-tackle, three-interception performance against Idaho, and a two-sack performance against Kentucky, giving bobcat fans plenty of reasons to get excited for the frosh.
The defensive line has capably performed in the 2014 season thus far, and it the young defensive starts (like the young offensive skill position players) that will be expected to perform this week against EIU.
Notes For Eastern Illinois
1-3 is not where the Panthers of Eastern illinois expected to be four weeks into the 2014 college football season. But after losing key fixtures in the program (previously mentioned), the Panthers are presented with the possibility of losing four of its first five games. Though Austin Peay will not blow anyone away this season (Ohio defeated them 38-0 last year at Peden Stadium), the Panthers thrashed the helpless governors by a score of 63-7 last week. EIU got thing done on the ground against Austin Peay, and ran off 413 yards on the ground. That's 1236 feet. That's yeah...a lot.
Unfortunately for the Panthers, those 413 yards of the ground represented slightly more than half of the team's rushing yards on the year (405 in the other three games combined). Jason Whitlow has led the way, accounting for 283 net yards with three touchdowns while splitting time taking snaps with Andrew Manley at QB. Whitlow has completed 43 of his 74 attempted passes for 504 yards. Manley has produced similar statistics (48-83, 543 yards). A cradle of backs including Taylor Duncan, Jimmy Lera and Shepard Little will look to bust out against Ohio to secure the role as the Panthers' feature back.
For the EIU defense, linebacker Robert Haynes has an incredible eight tackles for loss in just four games of play and has 22 tackles. Defensive end Fedney Delphonse has posted 18 tackles and 2.5 sacks. No longer reeling from poor performances from several of the first few games, EIU comes having reason to feel positive on defense.
Gonna keep this short and simple. I think EIU sticks with its running QB (Whitlow) and rides his legs to some points in Saturday's action. However, it will be big play receivers from Ohio who will make the difference. Ohio pulls out the win 34-28.