EIU bids farewell to seniors in Saturday's home finale

EIU bids farewell to seniors in Saturday's home finale
Isaiah Johnson and the Eastern Illinois Panthers will close out their home schedule Saturday at O'Brien Field. (photo courtesy of EIUPanthers.com)

In a season that hasn't gone the way they planned, the Eastern Illinois Panthers will wrap up their home schedule Saturday at O'Brien Field in Charleston.

EIU's opponent is another Ohio Valley Conference team that has experienced a disappointing year. While Eastern has won just two games this season, Austin Peay is 4-5, a major letdown after being the darling of FCS a year ago when the Governors posted an 8-4 record and finished second in the league standings.

Both teams enter Saturday afternoon with 2-4 records in the OVC.

Eastern is coming off a bye week, while Austin Peay lost at home to Eastern Kentucky. The Panthers also lost to the EKU, 31-23 two weeks ago on the road.

"The biggest thing is we need to become more consistent in doing what we do," EIU head coach Kim Dameron said. "We've got to not have illegal procedure penalties. We got to not have holding penalties when we make big plays and when we get to the one-yard line, we can't snap the ball over the running back's head."

Eastern has just one home win this season (24-21 over UT-Martin in overtime), while Austin Peay has just one road win (78-40 over Morehead State). The Governors are winless in Ohio Valley Conference away games thus far.


Bye week business

Dameron said that he would have preferred to have had the Panthers' bye week "maybe in the first four or five weeks of the season."

"You can get going and then have a week to reassess and the you get on a roll hopefully late," the fifth-year head coach said. "The fact that our record isn't what we hoped it would be, it really didn't come at a great time.

"We did get some good practices in. We did hopefully get some guys healed up a little bit."

Return of the running game (for a half)

Senior running back Isaiah Johnson rushed for 132 yards in the first half against Eastern Kentucky two weeks ago.  He had a 49-yard run that set up the Panthers' first points, a 32-yard field goal by Nick Bruno.

Johnson later scored on a 34-yard run with 3:27 to play in the first quarter.  Johnson became the 29th player in EIU school history to pass the 1,000 yard mark for their career.

"One of the things in the second half of the Eastern Kentucky game was that we quit scoring," Dameron said. "When you quit scoring and you don't make people one dimensional and you allow them to play defense and run the ball, it makes it extremely difficult."

Eastern Kentucky erased a a seven-point halftime deficit and posted a 31-23 win over the Panthers.

Senior Day

The Panthers will honor 14 seniors prior to kickoff.

Josh Doyle

Josh Doyle

Starters included in that group are running back Isaiah Johnson, wide receivers Aaron Gooch, Alexander Hollins and Nick Atoyebi, offensive linemen Aaron Callaway and Josh Doyle as well as defensive linemen Levi Watson and Josh Price along with corner DySaun Smith.

Punter and kicker Nick Bruno will also make his final appearance at home for the Panthers. Bruno missed all of last year with an injury suffered prior to the season opener.

Three key matchups

  1. EIU Air Raid offense vs. Austin Peay defense: The Panthers have the top passing offense in the OVC, while APSU has the second best pass (and third overall) defense in the league. The Governors average an interception a game.
  2. Austin Peay run game vs. EIU defense:  Austin Peay leads the conference in rushing, averaging 241.1 yards per game (5.7 per carry) with 21 touchdowns on the ground. EIU is eighth out of nine OVC teams in rush defense.
  3. Cold weather conditions:  With temperatures expected to be more of the winter variety than that of fall, Austin Peay's running game has the advantage over Eastern's passing offense. 

The game

Austin Peay (5-4 overall, 2-4 in the Ohio Valley Conference) at Eastern Illinois (2-7, 2-4) at O'Brien Field in Charleston. It's a 1 p.m. kickoff on the Panther radio network and ESPN+.

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