3 things we learned: EIU digs early hole, loses road conference game

Eastern Illinois dug itself a large hole and lost its second game of the spring Ohio Valley Conference season.

The Panthers (0-2) fell behind 28-7 and were defeated 28-15 Sunday by UT-Martin (1-1).

UT-Martin quarterback John Bachus completed 24-of-36 passes for 259 yards and three touchdowns. The Skyhawks converted 8-of-15 third downs.

Three things Prairie State Pigskin learned:

  1. Opponents crowd the line on Eastern’s offense

UT-Martin spent much of the game with as many as nine defenders within five yards of the line of scrimmage. As a result, the Skyhawks not only held the EIU running game in check but also racked up 12 tackles-for-loss. Eight of those TFLs came in the first half.

In addition, many of quarterback Harry Woodbery’s early passes either produced short gains or incompletions.

Woodbery, a redshirt senior, did have success throwing the deep ball later in the game. The Texas native completed 26-of-49 passes for 279 yards and two touchdowns.

Woodbery also threw an interception that UT-Martin’s John Ford returned 50 yards for a touchdown, boosting the Skyhawks to a 21-0 lead in the second quarter.

The Panthers faced third-and-long situations for much of the afternoon. EIU converted just 4-of-17 of those third downs.

After EIU blocked a punt for a safety to slice UT-Martin’s lead to 28-15, the Panthers had a chance to put pressure on the Skyhawks.

However, on a key fourth-and-two situation at the 9:33 mark of the fourth quarter, Woodbery overthrew a wide-open Nick Stricker on a rollout for what would have been a first down.

2. EIU may have found its playmaker

The Panthers played their second straight game without All-OVC preseason pick Isaiah Hill. Enter redshirt freshman Matt Judd, a transfer from the University of Illinois.

Matt Judd

Judd, who prepped at Lincoln-Way East High School, provided the Panthers with a spark on both kick returns and with his receiving.

Judd returned three kickoffs for 98 yards, including a 53-yarder—something that EIU has sorely missed in recent years.

Judd led the team with five catches for 73 yards. He scored on a six-yard slant off a fourth down play shortly before halftime.

3. The Panthers will go on fourth down

From the opening drive of the game, EIU head coach Adam Cushing made the decision to go on fourth down rather than punt.

Certainly as the Panthers were forced to play from behind that decision became more common, but in his 13 previous games as a head coach Cushing has often made similar decisions.

EIU finished the game 3-for-8 on fourth down calls.

What’s next?

The Panthers travel to Nashville to play Tennessee State Sunday, March 14. EIU defeated the Tigers in 2019 for Cushing’s first career coaching victory.

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