#19 Eastern Illinois FCS Football 2013 Preview

Eastern Illinois Panthers

Overall Rank: #19
#1 Ohio Valley

Eastern Illinois Team Page#19 Eastern Illinois FCS Football 2013 PreviewBuy Eastern Illinoiis Football Tickets

The Ohio Valley Conference has a tough act to follow. It was a thrilling year for the conference, but Eastern Illinois ended up on top at the end of the 2012 campaign and earned the automatic bid to the playoffs. Once there the Panthers defense could not stop South Dakota State and the offense failed to keep up. The story may be the same for EIU come playoff time, yet this group has the talent to win another conference crown.

2012 Record: 7-5, 6-1
2012 Postseason: FCS Playoffs
Coach: Dino Babers (7-5 at Eastern Illinois, 7-5 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Sterlin Gilbert
Defensive Coordinator: Kim McCloud

Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Taylor Duncan, RB, 466 yards
Passing: Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, 3,823 yards
Receiving: Erik Lora, WR, 1,664 yards
Tackles: Robert Haynes, LB, 101
Sacks: Pat Wertz, DE, 3.0
Interceptions: Robert Haynes, LB, 2; Jourdan Wickliffe, S, 2

Other Key Returnees: S Nick Beard, CB D.J. Bland, WR Keiondre Gober, LB Adam Gristick, CB Pete Houlihan, LB LeQuince McCall, OL Dominic Pagliara, OL Alex Pierce, OL Collin Seibert

Key Losses: DE Aravious Dowdell, WR Sam Hendricks, DT Roosevelt Holliday, C Kevin Kapellas, OT Shane Kelly, DT Greg Mahan, RB Jake Walker, WR Chavar Watkins, WR Chris Wright

The Eastern Illinois offense was among the best in the nation, ranking in the top ten in passing offense, total offense and scoring offense. The unit only returns five starters, but two of them are among the best players in the country. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo threw for 3,823 yards and 31 touchdowns as a junior. He has a big arm and a great wide receiver to work with. Erik Lora caught an amazing 136 passes for 1,664 yards and 12 scores. Everybody knows that they need to do more than just keep an eye out for Lora, but they cannot stop him anyway. The Panthers need production from sophomore wideout Keiondre Gober, who played in just four games as a freshman. However, they were four productive games as he caught nine passes for 198 yards and three touchdowns. The big offensive line returns three starters. Collin Seibert and Dominic Paliara are both all-OVC caliber players. This is a team that prefers to stick to the air, but replacing running back Jake Walker could prove to be a problem. Walker rushed for 1,133 yards and a dozen scores during his senior season. Taylor Duncan is back and added 466 yards and eight scores, but Duncan is pretty much a power back. He is great in short yardage situations and will punch the ball into the end zone. However, this team needs a playmaking back to emerge to keep the offense as explosive as it was in 2012.

In the offensive juggernaut that is the OVC, allowing over 435 yards per game is not all that bad. It was good enough for third in the conference. There is still plenty of room for improvement and with eight starters returning, this group does have potential. The big problem is going to be in the trenches where Pat Wertz is the only returning starter. Artavious Dowdell tallied 7.5 sacks and 13.5 tackles-for-loss during his senior season and tackles Greg Mahan and Roosevelt Holliday may have been a bit undersized, but they were productive players for EIU. The defense will not get any better if Coach Dino Babers cannot find anybody to effectively clog the middle and get to the opposing quarterback even though the back seven now has plenty of talent and experience. Linebacker Robert Haynes will again be the man in the middle. He led the squad with 101 tackles as a sophomore. LeQuince McCall can help the new front four get pressure on the quarterback, while Adam Gristick can get back into coverage. D.J. Bland and Pete Houlihan have turned into decent corners. They are going to get beat in the OVC, but both will be three year starters by the end of 2013. Safeties Jourdan Wickliffe and Nick Beard have more than enough experience going up against some great quarterbacks. Beard in particular has proven to be very good in pass coverage.

The Bottom Line:
It should be another close race in the OVC with a handful of teams sporting experienced rosters and a couple others surely to surprise a few people. For every potent offense in the conference it will come down to how effective the defense can be. Eastern Illinois has depth and talent in the back seven, but the line will not have much time to reload with a very tough schedule to start the year. The Panthers head to San Diego State, Southern Illinois and Northern Illinois in the first four weeks of the season. They also host Illinois State. That is brutal. They even have to play other OVC favorites Tennessee State and Tennessee-Martin on the road.

Projected Postseason: FCS Playoffs

2012 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 136.00 (76th in nation, 7th in conference)
Passing Offense: 334.92 (6, 2)
Total Offense: 470.92 (7, 2)
Scoring Offense: 36.50 (8, 2)
Rushing Defense: 170.25 (71, 3)
Pass Defense: 264.83 (112, 5)
Total Defense: 435.08 (102, 3)
Scoring Defense: 36.17 (108, 6)
Turnover Margin: -0.42 (92, 8)
Sacks: 2.08 (54, 2)
Sacks Allowed: 2.42 (80, 7)


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