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2019 Indiana Football Preview: The Eastern Illinois Panthers

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An FCS opponent at home the week before Ohio State. What could possibly go wrong?

NFL: Preseason-New England Patriots at Carolina Panthers Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Indiana and Eastern Illinois will face off for the first time in week two of this season. This marks the ninth time the Panthers have squared off against a Big Ten opponent, and the Hoosiers are the only FBS opponent on their schedule this season. Their only dance with an FBS opponent last season was a 55-20 loss to Arkansas in the first week of the year.

What To Expect From The Panthers

Eastern Illinois is looking to start a new era under first year head coach Adam Cushing, who spent over a decade as a member of Northwestern’s coaching staff in charge of the tight ends from 2004-08, and the offensive line from 2008 until he was hired this past December. On the offensive side, two quarterbacks had over 200 attempts last season — Johnathan Brantley and Harry Woodbery—and both return this year. However, they will have work to do with last year’s leading receiver Alexander Hollins no longer there. Replacing 80 receptions, over 1,100 yards and 16 touchdowns is no easy task. The leading returning receiver is tight end James Sheehan, who hauled in 50 receptions last year. In terms of the running game, the only player to reach 100 carries last season was Brantley, so there is definitely a hole to be filled at the running back position.

On the defensive side, leading tacklers Joe Caputo and Dytarious Johnson are both back and bring 22.5 tackles for loss and over 160 total tackles of production from last season with them. Edwyn Brown and Mark Williams, the only two Panthers to record multiple interceptions last year, are also back and look to lead the secondary. The team as a whole allowed almost 500 yards and just over 40 points per contest last year, so Cushing has a lot of work to do right away.

Three Names To Watch

  1. Johnathan Brantley, QB - The dual-threat QB had 20 total touchdowns and a little over 2,300 yards last season. With a lot of work to be done on the ground, expect the Tulane transfer to step up and look to produce immediately. He’s not afraid to take off and run, and if he takes the majority of snaps under center, he could lead the team in rushing.
  2. Dytarious Johnson, LB - Outside of having perhaps the best name on the team, he’s an animal defensively. He had two forced fumbles, 15 tackles for loss and 78 total tackles. That side of the football was especially bad for the Panthers last season, but he is one of a number of returning starters who will look to change the culture of the defense.
  3. James Sheehan, TE - Although he may not have breakaway speed or the potential to single-handedly tear up the IU defense, he has a reliable and experienced track record and can act as a safety net for a reception for a few yards if and when the offense stalls. The offensive weapons are scarce for EIU, but Sheehan will have his.

How IU Can Win

A home game against an FCS opponent a week before Ohio State will likely give Indiana fans a reason to be nervous, but best to save those nerves for the Buckeyes. This is a team that really struggled last year, especially defensively, and Indiana will look to showcase its weapons and tune up before Ohio State comes to town. As long as the Hoosiers stay healthy and respect the opponent, that should be enough to get it done.