For the second straight Saturday Eastern Illinois faces a natural rival. A week ago, it was Illinois State; this time around the opposition is Indiana State.
"I talked last week [that] the rivals are some of what makes college football so special," first-year EIU head coach Adam Cushing said during the weekly Ohio Valley Conference call.
"The tradition, it means more and not just to the players on the field, but you play somebody year in, year out. The former players are excited about it, and the students kind of pick up on [it] and then the whole campus is excited, so it's a great opportunity."
It's also an opportunity for Eastern's first win of the young season. The Panthers (0-3) travel to Terre Haute to tangle with Indiana State (1-2), a team coming off its first victory of the season. The Sycamores posted a 19-7 win over OVC member Eastern Kentucky.
It also marks the final nonconference game for Eastern and the third road game in four starts. According to HERO Sports, the Panthers are playing the sixth-toughest FCS schedule in the nation.
EIU has struggled to score points. After being shut out in a loss at Indiana of the Big Ten, the Panthers managed just a field goal in last weekend's 21-3 loss to nationally ranked Illinois State.
"We've got to get better," said quarterback Jonathan Brantley following the loss.
Cushing indicated that his team is focused "on getting one day better" with each practice, film session and meeting.
EIU has scored just one touchdown this season. Its running game has been virtually nonexistent, with no rusher with more than 87 net yards through three games. In fact, it's Brantley who is that leading rusher. The running back corps has produced just a combined 167 yards on 56 carries (2.98 average).
The passing game hasn't been much better. The young offensive line has given up 11 sacks, prompting Cushing to play the more mobile Brantley over backup Harry Woodbery. EIU quarterbacks have completed only 47 percent of their passes and are averaging a paltry 3.8 yards per attempt.
Greering his head
After last Saturday's game Cushing called defensive lineman Terrell Greer the Panthers' best player thus far.
"First and foremost, it's maximum effort," Cushing said of the senior from Chicago. "Second of all, he plays physical. He's consistently physical . . . his stats are never going to pop off because he's a nose tackle . . . the linebackers are going to have the tackles-for-loss because he's winning his matchup."
Greer ranks seventh on the team in tackles. He has two tackles-for-loss, one quarterback hurry and a half sack.
Eastern Illinois and Indiana State will be meeting for the 86th time. EIU holds a 43-38-4 all-time series lead. Indiana State won last season in Charleston, 55-41, to snap a six-game win streak by Eastern in the series. EIU won 22-20 in their last trip to Terre Haute in 2017. The winning score came on a last-second touchdown pass.
This is the third game in a four-game home-and-home series between the two schools that first met on the gridiron in 1902.
Where can I find the game?
Eastern Illinois (0-3) at Indiana State (1-2). (Radio: EIU Radio Network 88.9 FM, Charleston (WEIU.net/HitMix); TV: ESPN-Plus).
Kickoff is at noon.