Conference schedule offers Eastern Illinois a fresh start

Eastern Illinois opens its 25th Ohio Valley Conference schedule Saturday at Tennessee Tech. (photo courtesy EIU Athletics)

Eastern Illinois head coach Adam Cushing and his staff showed their team the Ohio Valley Conference standings following the Panthers’ latest loss.

“I put the statistic up on Sunday that everybody in the OVC is 0-0 in conference. I know it sounds like coach speak, but it’s a real thing and now we’ve got an opportunity to re-invent our season,” Cushing said during Tuesday’s conference media address.

The Panthers (0-4) will begin their OVC schedule at Tennessee Tech (0-3).

“We’ve got an opponent, Eastern Illinois, coming in that is really similar to us. They’re 0-0 in OVC play. We’re 0-0 in OVC play. We play at 1:30 (p.m.) Saturday. We’re excited about the game,” said TTU head coach Dwayne Alexander.

The teams are similar in ways other than being winless. Both lost by shutouts to FBS Southeastern Conference programs — 46-0 at South Carolina for Eastern and 56-0 at Tennessee for TTU.

Both teams have also been injury-riddled early in the season. The Panthers have yet to have returning starters Jaelin Benefield and Isaiah Hill on offense.

Tennessee Tech lost starting quarterback Willie Miller in the defeat at Tennessee. Alexander said that redshirt sophomore Drew Martin will start in Miller’s absence against EIU.

Last spring’s result

Eastern’s only win of the OVC-only spring season came against Tennessee Tech. The Panthers recorded three interceptions and made a key special teams play in the 28-20 win at O’Brien Field.

“They blocked a punt against us that was really the difference in the game,” Alexander said.

EIU built a 28-10 lead midway through the third quarter and held on to win that March 21 game in Charleston.

Improved offense

Cushing was pleased with EIU’s offensive gains in last weekend’s 31-24 loss against rival Illinois State in the Panthers’ home opener.

“What you saw was more consistency on offense,” Cushing said.

EIU produced 277 yards of total offense on 71 plays — after running just three plays in the first quarter.

Freshman quarterback Otto Kuhns threw for 168 yards and ran for 34. Kuhns had just only less rushing attempt (13) than freshman back Harrison Bey-Buie (14 for 36 yards). Redshirt junior Markenzy Pierre, a transfer from Syracuse, led EIU with 39 rushing yards on nine carries.

News & notes

Saturday’s loss marks the fourth straight season EIU has started 0-4. The last time the Panthers were not in that situation was 2017 when Eastern opened the year with a 22-20 win at Indiana State . . . While the Panthers have been outscored 120-55 through the first four games, EIU has lost its FCS-only games by five, seven and seven points . . . Eastern has surrendered 36 points off turnovers and is -6 in turnover margin . . . the Panthers have yet to record an interception and have only one sack.

Where to find the game

Saturday’s 1:30 p.m. game with Eastern Illinois at Tennessee Tech can be found on ESPN+ & Hit Mix 88.9 FM (EIU radio) as well as online streaming

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