An Early Look at Iowa vs. Eastern Illinois

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And so it begins...With only 87 days left until the Iowa Football season begins, it's time to start dissecting the year ahead. First up is the Eastern Illinois Panthers.

The Game

Opponent: Eastern Illinois
Location: Kinnick Stadium, Iowa City, IA
Kickoff: 11:05 - September 4, 2010
TV: Big Ten Network

The Basics

Location: Charleston, IL
Head Coach: Bob Spoo
Mascot: Panther
Conference: Ohio Valley Conference (I've never heard of it either)
2009 Record: 8-4 (6-2)

The Offense

Returning Starters: 7
Key Players: RB Mon Williams, WR Lorence Ricks
Key Losses: QB Jake Christensen (yeah, that Jake Christensen), OT Chris Campbell

The Panther offense is kind of similar to what KOK does at Iowa. They use a variety of sets (though are probably a little more shotgun heavy than Iowa and they start a 3rd receiver instead of a fullback), look to run the ball first, then try to open up the game with some long passes. The similarities are reflected in the statistics. In 2009, EIU averaged 23.5 points, 124.4 rushing yards, and 190.7 passing yards per game. Iowa: 23.2 points, 114.2 rushing yards, and 222.1 passing yards.

Eastern Illinois returns basically all of the skill players sans Christensen. The top 3 running backs and top 5 receivers are all back. Running back Mon Williams, a transfer from Florida, was the most productive player on offense last year. He started 9 games and went over 100 yards in 3 of them. On the season he total 870 yards and 9 touchdowns averaging 4.6 yards per carry. The other running back of note is Jimmy Potempa who led the team in receptions with 32 (they use him as a slot receiver too) and was 3rd on the team in rushing with 248 yards.

As far as the receivers go, they are all about the same. The top 5 receivers had between 19 and 29 catches and all averaged about 30 reception yards per game. The touchdown receptions were pretty evenly split too...each had at least two, and nobody had more than 4. Lorence Ricks was the big play receiver though, averaging 20 yards a reception, while the others averaged right around 13 yards.

They have to replace 3 offensive linemen, but the main concern for Eastern Illinois will be finding a starting quarterback. Not only did they lose starter Jake Christensen, but the backup, Bodie Reeder, was also a senior last year. During the spring there were 3 quarterbacks in the mix: Doug Reynolds, Brandon Large, and Shandonta Travis. Large was the best in the spring game though, going 15 of 24 for 282 yards and 3 TDs. There are also 3 incoming freshmen quarterbacks that could challenge for a spot on the 2-deeps.

The Defense

Returning Starters: 8
Key Players: LB Nick Nasti, CB CJ James
Key Losses: DT Trevor Frericks, RS Seymour Loftman

The defense was the strength of the Panther football team in 2009. They allowed just over 21 points per game and forced 26 turnovers. At the end of the year, Eastern Illinois ranked 27th in the FCS in Total Defense. They consistently held teams under 300 yards of total offense (including limiting Murray State to just 168 yards), besides giving up 553 yards to Penn State. The defensive unit returns 7 or 8 starters, losing both defensive tackles and both safeties (they had 2 strong safeties split the starts last year...one returns, the other doesn't).

Though the Panthers must replace 2 defensive tackles, they shouldn't have much trouble finding bodies to fill the holes. There are 5 returning defensive linemen that started in at least 1 game last year. Between the 5 of them though, their stats are somewhat underwhelming: 108 tackles, 21 TFLs, and 10 sacks. DE Perry Burge will probably be the leader of the group. He finished with 31 tackles, 7 TFLs, and 5 sacks.

Rounding out the front 7, Eastern Illinois returns all 3 starting linebackers. The amazingly-named Nick Nasti is the star of the bunch. He led the team in tackles with 83, had an interception and 2 forced fumbled and fumble recoveries. Also returning is MLB Gordy Kickels (62 tackles, 4.5 TFLs, 1.5 sacks) and WLB Cory Leman (63 tackles, 2.0 TFLs, 1 sack, and brother the former Illini J Leman). Giving the Panthers some depth is Sean Campbell (41 tackles, 3.5 TFLs, 1 sack), who started at least 1 game at each of the linebacker positions.

The cornerbacks are the stars of the defense as both starters return. CJ James is as close to a shutdown corner as you'll find in the FCS. He had 44 tackles, 4 pass breakups, a blocked kick, and 5 interceptions which he returned for 152 yards and 2 touchdowns (throw the other way Stanzi!). The other corner, Rashad Haynes, was not too shabby himself leading the team with 11 pass breakups and was 4th on the team with 46 tackles.

At safety, the Panthers only return a part-time starter in Bobson Mercier. Mercier was the starting "rover" (a strong safety/linebacker hybrid) for most of the second half of 2009, but only had 18 tackles on the season. The free safety spot is more up from grabs, but Carlos Reyna, who played sparingly last year, has a sack and an interception to his name.

The Special Teams

Returning Starters: 2
Key Players: P Kevin Cook, KR Lorence Ricks
Key Loss: K Austin Signor (another yeah that guy)

With a couple of specialist returning, Eastern Illinois should be okay. Punter Kevin Cook is good. In 50 punts he averaged 42.0 yards per punt, pinned 14 inside the 20, and had 13 go over 50 yards. If things go according to Iowa's plans, then Cook should plenty of opportunities to show off his leg in Kinnick. At kick returner, Lorence Ricks is explosive. He averaged over 30 yards per return last year and took 1 back for a touchdown.

The real question mark is at kicker though. Iowa transfer Austin Signor was 1st Team All-OVC last year and I didn't see another kicker on the roster. They are bringing in a freshman though, and may have Cook handle both punting and kicking.

Video!

The 2009 highlights mainly features hard hits by the defense, but you can kind of get a sense for the team.

Links

In case you want to read more about Eastern Illinois, here are some useful links:
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