Panthers face stout test at Big Ten's Indiana Saturday

Panthers face stout test at Big Ten's Indiana Saturday
Saturday's game against Indiana University marks the ninth time that EIU has faced a member of the Big Ten Conference. (photo courtesy of eiupanthers.com)

While Eastern Illinois and Indiana will meet for the first time on the football field, the coaching staffs recognize one another.

“Certainly it’s got some familiarity, that is nice,” said first-year EIU head coach Adam Cushing, a former Northwestern assistant for 15 years.

What’s more Cushing is impressed with the work of IU’s Tom Allen, who first served as Hoosiers’ defensive coordinator before being elevated to head coach.

“Coach Allen has done a phenomenal job of truly upgrading the talent level,” Cushing said during Tuesday’s Ohio Valley Conference teleconference. “He’s not only done a great job in recruiting, but I also believe that their strength and conditioning has done a phenomenal job. Their talent level is as high as I’ve seen it in the past.”

So does that familiarity give Eastern a better chance to knock off the FBS Hoosiers?

“It’s going to help us have a base thought for game plans, but then it’s about preparing for the personnel,” Cushing said.

Familiar face

Indiana defensive coordinator Kane Wommack spent two seasons–2014 and 2015–as EIU’s defensive coordinator under Panther head coach Kim Dameron.

Eastern ranked second in the nation with 19 interceptions in 2015, the last time the Panthers made the FCS playoffs. Wommack’s defense had the third most takeaways (31) in the country and landed in the top 10 in three other categories that same season.

Two-quarterback system?

Although Jonathan Brantley got the start in last Thursday night’s 24-10 loss at Chattanooga, both he and Harry Woodbery saw significant playing time.

Brantley, the senior from Houston, went 13-for-25 for 119 yards with one touchdown. He also rushed for 29 yards. Woodbery, the redshirt junior from The Woodlands, Tex., completed 13-of-22 passes for 121 yards. He was intercepted once.

“It’s a competition, not a controversy,” Cushing reiterated this week. “It’s going to be week-to-week.”

Cushing added that practice along with other factors such as skill set and the opposition will determine playing time going forward.

Back in uniform

Beat writer Patrick Engel of  JG-TC reported that Cushing has hopes to get wide receiver Matt Reyna back “sooner than later.” In addition, offensive lineman Aaron Miller is expected to play Saturday after a nagging injuries kept him out last week.

Finally, running back Darshon McCullough and defensive back Mark Williams will be available against Indiana after sitting out with suspensions in week one. Engel reported that the suspensions are “team business,” according to Cushing.

What does this game mean?

This will be the ninth time that EIU has faced a member of the Big Ten Conference.  The Panthers are 0-8 in previous meetings with the last matchup coming during the 2015 season when EIU lost at Northwestern when Cushing was on the Wildcats staff.  This will be the third time Indiana has faced a team from the Ohio Valley Conference with previous wins over Eastern Kentucky and Murray State.

The Hoosiers will pay the Panthers a $375,000 guarantee for the game, according to a copy of the contract obtained from Indiana University by FBSchedules.com via a state public records request.

Indiana had a pair of players chosen as Big Ten players of the week, kicker Logan Justus as the top specialist and quaterback Michael Penix, Jr. as the conference’s best freshman.

Justus made all four field goal attempts in the Hoosiers’ 34-24 win over Ball State, including career-long makes of 48, 49 and 50 yards. That tied a program record for field goals in a game.

Penix, the first IU freshman to start a season opener at quarterback since Antwaan Randle El in 1998, threw for 326 yards and rushed for 67 more. Randle El’s accounted for 467 total yards versus Western Michigan in his debut.

Where can I find the game?

Eastern Illinois at Indiana, 2:30 p.m. Saturday; TV – Big Ten Network; Radio – 88.9 FM, Charleston (WEIU.net/HitMix).

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