Western Illinois starts MVFC play seeking more than 'flashes'

Head coach Jared Elliott and the WIU Leathernecks kick off Missouri Valley Football Conference play this weekend at Youngstown State. (Photo by GoLeathernecks.com)

Jared Elliott has been wowed by some big moments that the Western Illinois football team has produced this fall.

Those moments, however, have not lasted long enough for the WIU head coach.

“We’ve got to start playing four quarters,” Elliott said on his weekly coach’s show. “We’re showing flashes. We can’t be ‘minute men’ and do it a minute here and a minute there.”

The Leathernecks (0-3) get their first opportunity this season to expand their impact in Missouri Valley Football Conference play Saturday in Youngstown, Ohio, against Youngstown State.

“Our guys care,” he said. “They have a lot of pride. We’re a battle-tested team that’s played an unbelievable schedule.”

In non-conference play, Western lost to two Top 10 teams, including a 62-56 loss last weekend in Macomb against Eastern Washington that featured a 35-point second-half from the WIU offense.

“There was a glimmer of life there, but it was too late,” said Elliott, whose team fell behind 55-21 at halftime. “It was a snapshot of our first three games. We’ve got to start playing four quarters.”

Defensive dilemmas

The Leathernecks gave up 55 first-half points and numerous big plays against EWU, leading Elliott to repeat the same themes he wants to see more of from his defensive unit.

We’ve talked bout this every week,” he said. “We’ve got to keep things in front of us. We’ve got to limit explosive plays, and we’ve got to tackle in space.”

EWU powered its way to 754 yards of total offense, including 548 through the air.

Finding rhythm on offense

In the shootout loss, the Leathernecks managed to score 21 first-quarter points and 35 in the second half behind a 425-yard, four-touchdown day from quarterback Connor Sampson. The glaring stat, however, was being shut out in the second quarter.

On its six second-quarter drives, the Leathernecks punted five consecutive times, had three drives of only three plays and produced a long drive of only five plays.

“We started to press a little bit,” Elliott said. “When we started putting that pressure on ourselves, it really bogged us down. (In the second half) we started playing with speed, playing with confidence. We got into a real good rhythm.”

All hands on deck

The run game had its best output of the season with 175 yards, four touchdowns and a 5.3 yards per carry average.

The secret? Using multiple players in various ways.

Along with running backs Myles Wanza (30 yards) and Ludovick Choquette (5 yards), the Leathernecks leaned on wide receivers Dennis Houston (50), Dallas Daniels (40), Tony Tate (28) and Daniel Bender (14).

“We’re going to continue to find ways to run the ball,” Elliott said. “A lot of times that’s by committee. That was important for us. We’re going to have to find ways to get different guys incorporated.”

Where to find the game

The Leathernecks kick off at 5 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 25 in Ohio in a game that airs on ESPN-Plus online. The radio call can be found online at WIU’s Mixlr.com home page.

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