With senior quarterback Mitch Kimble still out with an injury, Eastern Illinois has relied on a strong defense and a conservative offensive game plan to post consecutive wins to open its Ohio Valley Conference schedule.
"We're trying to do what our team needs to do to win a football game and we had to find a way to run the football coming into the conference season," EIU head coach Kim Dameron said during Tuesday's OVC media conference.
Most of that running game has been provided by redshirt freshman Scott Gilkey, Jr., who has taken over the starting role with Kimble sidelined with what has been reported as a shoulder/back injury. Gilkey is the Panthers' leading rusher with 235 yards on 70 carries. He has scored five touchdowns.
Gilkey was named the OVC Offensive Player of the Week and Newcomer of the Week after leading EIU to the win at Tennessee State. He rushed for 104 yards with a 9-yard touchdown in the first quarter and 1-yard plunge over the line in the second overtime period.
Listed at 6-foot-4 and 235 pounds, Gilkey threw for just 46 yards against Tennessee State. He was 11-for-26 passing on the night.
"Scotty's got to continue to improve, seeing the coverage and going to the right receiver a little bit more," Dameron said of his rookie quarterback. "The thing we need to understand right now is that we're not going out there and throwing it around a bunch, so when we do have a dropped pass or a pass that's not quite accurate, it is extenuated a lot more because we're not throwing the ball that much."
The Panthers' defense has been solid in conference wins over Southeast Missouri and Tennessee State, holding each team to 16 points.
"Our big focus going in was to stop the run . . . and limit the big plays," Dameron said. "Going into the (TSU) game a lot of their offense came on what we call explosive plays, which would be passes over 16 yards and runs over 12. The key to us was being able to control that, and we did a much better job."
The EIU defense has forced seven turnovers in two OVC games. Many of those have come at key moments.
Senior Nick Horne was named the OVC Defensive Player of the Week after helping pace an EIU defense that forced four turnovers in the 19-16 win at Tennessee State. Horne finished the game with 12 tackles with a half tackle for loss. He forced a fumble on the second play of the game which set up EIU's first score.
"I'll say this, we'll take the two Ws and try to continue to improve our passing game," Dameron said.
Tennessee Tech (0-5 overall, 0-2 in OVC) at Eastern Illinois (3-2 overall, 2-0 in OVC), 6 p.m. Saturday at O'Brien Field in Charleston (Game will air on OVC Digital Network and WEIU.net)
Three key matchups
- EIU run game vs. TTU defense: Eastern needs to run the ball effectively to allow Gilkey to grow as a passer. Junior college transfer Isaiah Johnson brings a 4.2 yards-per-carry into the game for the Panthers. TTU ranks 114th in run defense.
- Turnovers: EIU has greatly limited its turnovers in conference action. Meanwhile, the Golden Eagles have lost 15 turnovers this season (nine interceptions, six fumbles lost).
- Quarterly reports: While Eastern has won the first quarter this season (29-24), the Panthers have lost every quarter thereafter (Q2, 48-14; Q3, 29-7; Q4, 27-20). Through the first five games of the season, Tennessee Tech is getting outscored 154-69, which includes getting outscored 37-0 in the first quarter, 42-7 in the second and 47-20 in the third. Tech has been able to outscore its opponents 42-28 in the fourth, though Jacksonville State outscored the Golden Eagles 14-0 last week.
EIU had a pair of kickers both make field goals in Saturday’s win. Former junior college baseball player-turned-kicker Nick Wilson knocked home a 32-yard field goal in the second quarter giving EIU a 10-0 lead at the time. Wilson is now 3-of-4 for the year. In the first overtime period freshman kicker Matt Severino was called in and delivered on a 42-yard field goal for his first collegiate attempt. The last time EIU had two different kickers make a field goal in a game was Nov. 26, 2005 in the FCS playoffs against Southern Illinois. In that game Zach Yates made a 32-yard kick while Tyler Wilke knocked home a 34-yard kick.
Hall of Fame game
Eastern Illinois will be honoring its 2017 Athletic Hall of Fame Class at halftime of the game. The 2017 class includes athletes Zye Boey (men’s track), Cara LeMaster Trufant (women’s soccer), J.R. Taylor (football); administrator Dave Kidwell and friend of athletics Joe Strohm.
Eastern is a +5 in turnover differential in its 2-0 start in conference action.