3 things we learned: EIU Panthers shut out for first time since 2015

3 things we learned:  EIU Panthers shut out for first time since 2015

First-year Eastern Illinois head coach Adam Cushing was there the last time the Panthers suffered a shutout loss. It occurred on Sept. 12, 2015, when EIU lost 41-0 at Northwestern where Cushing was a then-Wildcat assistant.

On Saturday afternoon in Bloomington, Ind., Cushing experienced the other end of a whitewashing as his Panthers lost 52-0 to the Big Ten Hoosiers.

Here are three things we learned from EIU's loss:

1. The game is another part of Cushing and his staff's player development.

The Panthers' starting offensive line consisted of three true freshmen, a redshirt sophomore and a redshirt junior who missed all of last season with an injury suffered during fall camp.

As expected, Indiana's bigger, faster and stronger players quickly turned the game into a rout. Eastern's first three plays from scrimmage lost yardage. Meanwhile, the Hoosiers scored on their first three drives and built a 35-0 by halftime.

It took until the second quarter for Eastern to finally make a first down. EIU was limited to five first downs and 116 yards of total offense on the afternoon.

While Eastern's offensive line was outmanned in both size and experience by Indiana's defensive front, it's Cushing desire that the Panthers' youthful unit grows together and eventually leads to success down the road.

That road just wasn't in Bloomington, Ind. on Saturday.

2. The game was as much about money and exposure as it was about competing.

Eastern received a $375,000 guarantee from Indiana for playing the game, which was featured on the Big Ten Network.

That payday is huge for EIU's athletic department, headed by former University of Illinois basketball player Tom Michael.

And the Panthers weren't alone in pursuit of the paycheck; seven of the nine Ohio Valley Conference teams played FBS universities Saturday. In fact, two OVC programs played Top 10 FBS opponents:  No. 3-ranked Georgia throttled Murray State 63-17 and No. 10 Florida blanked UT-Martin 45-0.

The fact that none of the OVC teams won isn't really the point. That money helps sustain the entire athletic department at each school.

3.  Eastern is still waiting for the NCAA to rule on two transfers.

As aches and injuries take their toll as football season rolls on, teams need every able body they can get. EIU currently has two players in limbo:  wide receiver Isaiah Hill and linebacker Nikola Wadsworth.

“We’re still waiting final word on both of them,” Cushing told Patrick Engel of jg-tc.com last week. “But without final word, it’s a no.”

Hill, a redshirt sophomore who played his high school football in Minooka, transferred from South Dakota State. He was listed as a starter at one of EIU’s wide receiver positions for the Panthers' season opener at Chattanooga. However, since his transfer ruling has yet to come through, he has sat the first two games.

Hill would certainly be a boost for EIU. As a redshirt freshman last season, he appeared in 11 games for nationally ranked South Dakota State, playing both special teams and offense. What's more, Hill averaged 21.8 yards per return as a kick returner. He also caught three passes and scored two rushing touchdowns in the FCS playoffs.

Wadsworth transferred from Idaho State following two seasons at College of DuPage. The Oswego East graduate played in three games in 2018 for Idaho State and then used his redshirt year under new NCAA competition rule.

Wadsworth's availability becomes even more important as EIU linebacker Iziah Gulley was carted off the field in the first quarter Saturday. Gulley's status is unknown at this time.

What's next?

Eastern (0-2) hosts rival Illinois State (1-1) in the annual Mid-America Classic game Saturday at O'Brien Field. Kickoff is 2 p.m.

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