Written by T.J. Inman (@TJHooiserHuddle)
Week Two: Eastern Illinois Panthers
Date & Time: Saturday, September 7 at 3:30 EST
Venue: Memorial Stadium, Bloomington, IN
Panthers at a Glance
Head Coach: Adam Cushing
Entering his first season as a head coach and first year at EIU
Overall Record: 0-0
Panthers Last Season: 3-8 (3-5 in Ohio Valley Conference)
Panthers Returning Leaders
Passing: Johnathan Brantley - 65.1%, 2,016 yards, 14 touchdowns
Rushing: Johnathan Brantley – 100 rushes for 476 yards with 6 touchdowns
Receiving: James Sheehan – 50 catches for 544 yards with 3 touchdowns
Tackles: Joe Caputo – 86 tackles with 7.5 tackles for loss
8th out of 9 in Ohio Valley Conference
Impact Newcomers for the Panthers
-Dominic Moore – DL from Chicago, IL- a 6’7” three-star defensive lineman who turned down an offer from Illinois to head the FCS route.
-Joel Barrows – WR from Chicago, IL- a 6’3” two-star receiver who had seven offers (six from FCS schools and Army).
-Ivan Gleyzer – OL from Lincolnshire, IL- an undersized two-star lineman who may have to be thrown into the fire early.
Eastern Illinois enters a new era after disappointing 3-8 season that saw them going over 3-5 in the Ohio Valley Conference. The losing season brought an end to Kim Dameron’s reign and the Panthers turned to longtime Northwestern assistant Adam Cushing. Cushing is the 25th head coach in the history of the EIU program and he was the offensive line coach for the Northwestern Wildcats since 2009. Pat Fitzgerald is one of the best in the business but Cushing has no head coaching experience and how he will run his own program is a complete mystery at this point in time.
It is safe to assume that he will implement the multiple personnel packages we saw deployed in Evanston, using “h-backs”, tight ends and Superbacks to try and create mismatches against the defense. He won’t have near the personnel as he did in Evanston but there’s no reason that type of system can’t work. This season, the Panthers will have their choice of three quarterbacks: 2017 starter Scott Gilkey (five starts) is back along with 2018 contributors Johnathan Brantley and Harry Woodbery. Brantley was the better of the two in 2018 as both a passer and a rusher. He’s the odds-on favorite to be the starter. The Panthers are starting over at running back and wide receiver as top running backs Isaiah Johnson and Jamal Scott and top pass catchers Alexander Hollins and Aaron Gooch all depart. Robert Columbus is the top returning running back but he only had 19 carries in 2018. The best offensive player is likely redshirt senior tight end James Sheehan. He had 50 catches for more than 500 yards and he’s one of the better players at his position in the FCS. The offensive line actually has some pretty good size but the lack of proven skill players is a major question mark. The Panthers averaged 32.5 points per game in 2018 so the offense was not the main reason for the season’s failure.
Eastern Illinois surrendered 40.5 points per game and nearly 500 yards per game (492). There were six games in which they gave up more than 40 points (Arkansas, Illinois State, Indiana State, Tennessee State, Murray State and Jacksonville State) and they were poor against both the pass and the run. Chris Bowers is now the defensive coordinator at EIU after serving as the head of recruiting and director of player of personnel for 8 seasons at Northwestern. 2018’s leading tackler Joe Caputo returns as the top linebacker and he is joined by second leading tackler Dytarious Johnson to form what could be a solid linebacker duo. Edwyn Brown had a good redshirt freshman season at corner and at 6’5” he has the size to matchup with IU’s big outside receivers. The biggest issue on paper is a notable lack of size along the defensive front. Senior Terrell Greer is 5’10” and 310 pounds but they only have one more defensive lineman that reaches 270 pounds and the majority of their linemen are around 250 pounds. Indiana should be able to push the Panthers around in the trenches.
Nick Bruno was a solid place kicker and punter but he is not back for the 2019 season. The Panthers have redshirt junior Connor Griffin and sophomore Josh Delgado are the returning roster members but neither had an attempt or punt in 2018. Delgado was in charge of kickoffs last season and he’ll probably man those duties again. Senior Matt Reyna was the primary kickoff returner in 2018 and he could do that again this season.