#23 Eastern Illinois FCS Football 2014 Preview

Eastern Illinois Panthers

Overall Rank: #23
#3 Ohio Valley

Eastern Illinois Team Page#23 Eastern Illinois FCS Football 2014 PreviewBuy Eastern Illinois Football Tickets

The 2013 campaign will be remembered for a long time at Eastern Illinois. The Panthers started off the season by beating San Diego State 40-19. They did lose a game to another FBS opponent, Northern Illinois, but other than that EIU won 11 games heading into the playoffs. The Panthers earned the two seed, but ended up falling 49-39 to Towson in the quarterfinals. Now there are a lot of changes to deal with and it starts on the sidelines. Dino Babers left for the Bowling Green job and Kim Dameron is stepping in. Coach Dameron spent last season as Louisiana Tech’s defensive coordinator.

2013 Record: 12-2, 8-0
2013 Postseason: FCS Playoffs
Coach: Kim Dameron (0-0 at Eastern Illinois, 0-0 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Greg Stevens
Defensive Coordinator: Kane Wommack

Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Shepard Little, RB, 1,551 yards
Passing: Ben Krol, QB, 140 yards
Receiving: Adam Drake, WR, 1,305 yards
Tackles: Jourdan Wickliffe, DB, 91
Sacks: Dino Fanti, DT, 5.0
Interceptions: Jourdan Wickliffe, DB, 3

Other Key Returnees: RB Taylor Duncan, RB Jimmy Lera, WR Keiondre Gober, TE Jeff LePak, OL Dominic Pagliara, OL Nick Borre, OL Jimmy Lowery, OL Collin Seibert, LB Robert Haynes, LB Adam Gristick,

Key Losses: QB Jimmy Garoppolo, WR Erik Lora, OL Alex McNulty, DL Pat Wertz, DB Pete Houlihan, LB Antonio Taylor, LB LeQuince McCall, LB Alex Helms, DB Nick Beard, P Scott Weatherford

Eastern Illinois’ offense was the best in the FCS, totaling 589.5 yards and 48.2 points per game. But much of that production was due to the now departed Jimmy Garoppolo and Erik Lora. Garoppolo threw for 5,050 yards and 53 touchdowns during his senior season. Lora was his favorite target and caught 123 passes for 1,544 yards and 19 touchdowns. EIU may not see numbers like those again for a long, long time. Ben Krol, Kentucky transfer Jalen Whitlow and New Mexico State transfer Andrew Manley are the top options to replace Garoppolo under center. Whitlow threw for 1,033 yards and five touchdowns with the Wildcats last season and started eight games. Manley was at EIU last season and was the third stringer behind Krol. Adam Drake will emerge as the new top receiver, after catching 85 passes for 1,305 yards and 13 touchdowns. Keiondre Gober is a big 6-3 pass catcher who totaled 894 receiving yards and nine touchdowns. Add tight end Jeff LePak, who recorded 51 receptions for 723 yards and eight scores. But this offense is not about the passing game anymore, it is about Shepard Little. The running back rushed for 1,551 yards and 15 touchdowns. Backup Taylor Duncan ran for 988 yards and ten touchdowns. The passing game is not going away, but the Panthers can rely on Little as much as they need to.

Eastern Illinois has big holes to fill on defense too. Six starters are gone, including end Pat Wertz, safety Nick Beard and both starting cornerbacks. On the line, defensive tackle Dino Fanti will lead the way. He recorded 5.0 sacks and 14.5 tackles-for-loss. Fedney Delphonse will be asked to get to the quarterback more on a team that did just about everything well in 2013 except get to the quarterback. Linebacker Robert Haynes is one of the best linebackers in the OVC and he will be flanked by fellow returning starters Adam Gristick and Kamu Grugier-Hill. Jourdan Wickliffe, a senior safety, is the best playmaker on the team. He led the squad with 91 tackles, but also picked off three passes and forced four fumbles.

The Bottom Line:
EIU sure did not make the schedule easy for themselves on a bit of a rebuilding year. They play Minnesota, Ohio, Southern Illinois and Illinois State. Perhaps the only good news is that a very good Tennessee State team has to come to O’Brien Field. This group will need some time to fill those big gaps and the early schedule will not give them much of an opportunity to fine tune their skills. A 0-3 start is certainly a possibility and that may be too much for EIU to come back from as far as getting an at-large bid to the playoffs is concerned.

Projected Postseason: None

2013 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 217.1 (20th in nation, 2nd in conference)
Passing Offense: 372.4 (2, 1)
Total Offense: 589.5 (1, 1)
Scoring Offense: 48.2 (1, 1)
Rushing Defense: 170.1 (63, 4)
Pass Defense: 204.1 (38, 4)
Total Defense: 374.1 (53, 4)
Scoring Defense: 22.8 (26, 2)
Turnover Margin: 1.0 (6, 1)
Sacks: 1.86 (67, 6)
Sacks Allowed: 1.43 (34, 1)


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