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EKU Colonels use bye week to get back to basics
In last year’s game against Eastern Illinois, the Colonels churned out 287 yards on the ground, on their way to a 35-7 romp over the Panthers. But this year, the two teams that have won the last five of six OVC championships, come into the game with losing records.
After his team rested on a bye week last week, Eastern football’s Head Coach Dean Hood was able to find one positive.
“Well…we didn’t lose,” Hood said to begin Tuesday morning’s Ohio Valley Conference teleconference. “We planned on giving the guys some off time for some rest, but we were upset with how we played against Austin Peay, so it turned into a pretty big work week for us.”
The Colonels, who have started 1-3 in their first four games for the second year in a row, got back to the basics during their week off from play, Hood said.
“We practiced Monday through Thursday and then conditioned Friday,” Hood said. “We got better at some fundamentals. It was either a week that was gonna kill us or make us stronger. And I think it made us stronger.”
The bye week also gave the Colonels a chance to heal its wounds.
“I think T.J. is full strength now,” Hood said. “He had some problems, but I think it’s all eliminated now. Especially here during the open date…I think we pretty much have everyone back; the open date really helped us. We should be pretty close to full strength.”
Eastern will face Eastern Illinois University this weekend, who is coming off a 70-37 loss to Southeast Missouri last week. EIU is last in the OVC in rush defense, allowing 258.8 yards per game.
But offensively, Eastern has struggled running the ball as of late, averaging just a little more than 100 yards in the last two games.
“I think both teams want to change that [running game],” Hood said. “We’re trying to find a way to run the ball. It’s something that has to change for us, or we won’t have any success.”
But Hood said his team practiced well during the off week.
“The kids came out humming last night in practice and had a real good physical practice and get back to a chance to play a football game,” he said.
EIU Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, just in his sophomore season, has already thrown 25 career touchdowns and will lead Eastern Illinois.
“I think their QB is a lot better,” Hood said. “He’s got some games under his belt now. He reminds me of the kid from Austin Peay as he had gotten better. You can see that he’s starting to mature in the offense and starting to make better decisions.”
EIU is also led by a trio of receivers, all of whom have more than 1,000 receiving yards on the season.
The series between the Colonels and Panthers is one that usually determines the outcome for the OVC crowns. The two teams have combined for five of the last six OVC Championships with EIU winning in 2005, 2006 and 2009 and Eastern winning in 2007 and 2008.
“As always, they are big up front and have some tight ends that catch the ball, some running backs that can run,” Hood said. “It’s a typical EIU team, tough and physical on defense…they are just young. If there is one negative about them, it’s that they are [a] younger football team.”
In last year’s game, Eastern ran for 287 yards and limited Eastern Illinois to just 29 yards on the ground in a 35-7 victory. EIU lost four fumbles, threw two interceptions and was sacked five times in the game, which led to 21 quick Colonel points. T.J. Pryor led Eastern with 78 rushing yards, scored three times and passed for 85 yards and a touchdown. EIU’s Garoppolo completed 23 of 41 passes for 272 yards and a score.
“Their record is very similar to ours,” Hood said. “They could easily just as well be 3-1 or 4-0 instead of 1-3. I think it will be a battle Saturday.”
This is the 19th meeting between the two schools, with Eastern having won four in a row and six of the last eight overall in the series.
By Ryan Alves, The Eastern Progress