#16 Eastern Illinois FCS Football 2015 Preview

Eastern Illinois Panthers

Overall Rank: #16
#2 Ohio Valley

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Eastern Illinois struggled to a 5-7 overall record during Coach Kim Dameron’s first year leading the program. However, the Panthers did go 5-3 in conference play, which was tied for third in the league behind playoff representatives Jacksonville State and Eastern Kentucky. With nonconference games against Minnesota, Ohio, Illinois State and Southern Illinois, that record is certainly understandable. This time, EIU will hang around the playoff picture much longer.

2014 Record: 5-7, 5-3
2014 Postseason: None
Coach: Kim Dameron (5-7 at Eastern Illinois, 5-7 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Greg Stevens
Defensive Coordinator: Kane Wommack

Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Shepard Little, RB, 797 yards
Passing: Jalen Whitlow, QB, 2,075 yards
Receiving: Anthony Taylor, WR, 306 yards
Tackles: Kamu Grugier-Hill, LB, 97
Sacks: Fedney Delphonse, DE, 2.5
Interceptions: Jordan Wickliffe, DB, 4

Other Key Returnees: OL Evan Kanz, K/P Nick Bruno, DT Dino Fanti, DB Pono Choy, DB Anthony Goodman, DB Anthony Standifer, DB Antoine Johnson

Key Losses: RB Taylor Duncan, RB Jimmy Lera, QB Andrew Manley, WR Adam Drake, TE Jeff LePak, OL Nick Borre, OL Collin Seibert, LB Robert Haynes, LB Adam Gristick

It was actually the EIU defense that stepped up last year and they should be ready to take the next step this season. The front four will be led by defensive tackle Dino Fanti. The senior totaled 64 tackles, including 15.5 tackles-for-loss. Getting into the backfield was a huge problem for EIU and they averaged less than a sack per game. End Fedney Delphonse will shoulder much of that burden. Kamu Grugier-Hill is a great piece to build around at linebacker. He led the team with 97 tackles. Seth McDonald figures to step into a starting role and help replace Robert Haynes and Adam Gristick. The secondary is the most experienced unit from top to bottom. Cornerbacks Anthony Standifer and Anthony Goodman are both experienced seniors. At safety Pono Choy and Jourdan Wickliffe will look to continue EIU’s stout passing defense. Wickliffe intercepted four passes as a junior and recorded 62 tackles.

It is tough to call an offense led by quarterback Jalen Whitlow and running back Shepard Little a weakness, but Eastern Illinois has high expectations for their offenses. Whitlow threw for 2,075 yards and 15 touchdowns and added 792 yards and a dozen more scores on the ground. Little took a step back from his 2013 numbers, when he rushed for 1,551 yards. Last year he missed a couple games with an injury and rushed for 797 yards and just three touchdowns. The lack of touchdowns was due to Whitlow’s ability to run the ball in himself, but Little’s yards per carry only dropped from 7.1 to 6.4 from 2013 to 2014. The loss of receiver Adam Drake and tight end Jeff LePak will leave Whitlow without his most reliable targets and that will not help Little either. Anthony Taylor is the likely candidate to replace a bulk of Drake’s 93 catches for 1,321 yards and 12 touchdowns.

The Bottom Line:
The nonconference slate is again tough, with trips to Western Illinois and Northwestern and a return trip from Illinois State. The Panthers need to win one of those games in order to take the pressure off down the stretch. The good news is their toughest OVC games are in November, so Coach Dameron will have plenty of time to fill holes. And the better news is that the toughest of those tough games, against Jacksonville and Eastern Kentucky, are in the friendly confines of O’Brien Field.

Projected Postseason: FCS Playoffs

2014 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 236.3 (11th in nation, 2nd in conference)
Passing Offense: 243.8 (35, 3)
Total Offense: 480.1 (13, 2)
Scoring Offense: 31.3 (38, 4)
Rushing Defense: 165.3 (52, 5)
Pass Defense: 196.2 (39, 3)
Total Defense: 361.5 (42, 3)
Scoring Defense: 25.6 (51, 3)
Turnover Margin: 0.08 (55, 2)
Sacks: 0.92 (117, 8)
Sacks Allowed: 1.75 (45, 4)


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