Scouting Eastern Illinois

By: Matt Jones
Published: Friday, August 31, 2018
Eastern Illinois receiver Austin Hollins returns a kickoff during a 2017 game.
Photo by Eastern Illinois Athletics
Eastern Illinois receiver Austin Hollins returns a kickoff during a 2017 game.

Coach: Kim Dameron (24-22 overall, fifth season)

2017 Record: 6-5 overall, 5-3 Ohio Valley Conference

Postseason Result: None

Offense: Air Raid

Defense: 4-2-5

Returning Lettermen: 32 (17 offense, 13 defense, 2 special teams)

Returning Starters: 13 (6 offense, 6 defense, 1 special teams)

Players to Watch: WR Alexander Hollins, RB Isaiah Johnson, DB Mark Williams

The Skinny on Eastern Illinois

Former Arkansas defensive back/receiver Kim Dameron has been able to continue building on the foundation set by his predecessor, Dino Babers, in one of the better conferences in the Football Championship Subdivision. The Panthers have had a winning record the past three seasons and made the NCAA Playoffs in 2015.

EIU is a veteran team that is expected to finish in the top half of the Ohio Valley Conference. The Panthers mirror Arkansas in several ways. Both teams are breaking in a new offensive scheme in 2018, had a quarterback competition throughout the preseason and the opening game is the first of nine straight weekends of play as neither team has an open date until November.

Eastern Illinois Key Stat

The Panthers have 47 players who are in either their third, fourth or fifth year of playing college football, including 14 true or redshirt seniors.

Eastern Illinois Key Player

After redshirting in 2016, cornerback Mark Williams was a breakout player for the Panthers last season, earning Freshman All-America honors with 49 tackles, three interceptions and eight pass breakups.

In his first game last season against Indiana State, Williams intercepted a pass and returned it 73 yards for a touchdown. He also had an interception in the fourth quarter of a game against Tennessee Tech, preserving an EIU win.

Williams is the son of Darryl Williams, a 10-year NFL veteran who earned an invitation to the Pro Bowl while playing for the Cincinnati Bengals in 1997 and who was a consensus All-American on the University of Miami’s national championship team in 1991.

Williams is likely to be matched up in man coverage against Arkansas’ “2” receiver position that will be mostly manned by La’Michael Pettway.

Eastern Illinois on Offense

Johnathan Brantley and Harry Woodbery transferred to EIU during the offseason, and both battled returning five-game starter Scotty Gilkey Jr. for the No. 1 quarterback spot during the preseason.

It appears either Brantley or Woodbery will start the opening game at Arkansas. Brantley transferred from Tulane, where he started at Oklahoma and played in six games last season. Woodbery transferred from Navarro Junior College in Texas, where he completed 56 percent of his passes over the past two seasons and played under coordinator Scott Parr, who is in his first season as EIU’s coordinator.

Parr brings the Air Raid offense to the Panthers. He learned the system while an assistant coach under Mike Leach at Texas Tech from 2006-09.

EIU has two players, running back Isaiah Johnson and receiver Alexander Hollins, who are preseason all-conference picks. Johnson rushed for 683 yards and five touchdowns while splitting carries with several other backs last season, while Hollins had 47 catches for 694 yards and seven touchdowns, winning several of what his coach called “50-50 balls.”

On the line, Aaron Callaway, a three-year starting right guard, will move to center. Tackles Grant Branch IV (left) and Aaron Miller (right) have starting experience, but right guard Luther Harris and left guard Josh Doyle are largely unproven. Harris started three games last season in place of Callaway.

Eastern Illinois on Defense

Dameron, a former defensive coordinator, believes his team is deepest on the defensive side.

Junior tackle Terrell Greer (29 tackles, five tackles for loss and two sacks in 2017) and senior end Josh Price (42 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, two sacks) could present a matchup problem for the left side of Arkansas’ offensive line that might include two freshman starters.

Linebacker Joe Caputo is EIU’s leading returning tackler after recording 63 stops last season, including 6.5 for loss. He also had an interception.

The Panthers will throw multiple looks at Arkansas, but will base in a nickel package. All five projected starting defensive backs are in at least their third year out of high school.

Eastern Illinois on Special Teams

Matt Severino made 8 of 12 field goal attempts as a freshman last season with a long of 45 yards. Severino is more accurate on long field goal attempts than he is from close range. His misses last season were from 22, 25, 32 and 34 yards, and he had three missed extra points in 16 attempts, but he was perfect in three attempts between 42 and 45 yards. His first career field goal was a 42-yarder in overtime that became the game-winning score in a 19-16 win over Tennessee State.

Severino also served as the team’s kickoff man all season and averaged 55.5 yards per kick.

Nick Bruno was a three-year starting kicker who has made 31 of 45 career field goal attempts, but he is expected to be the team’s starting punter this season after sitting out 2017 with an injury. Bruno has a 33.9-yard average in 37 career punts. As a Freshman All-American in 2014, he rushed for 63 yards on a fake punt.

The Bottom Line

Arkansas’ last two head coaches have struggled in their first games against an FCS opponent. The Razorbacks needed to overcome a 10-point deficit late to beat Western Illinois in Bobby Petrino’s debut in 2008, and a strong fourth quarter helped stave off an upset bid by Samford in Bret Bielema’s second game in 2013.

In both instances, Arkansas was implementing an entirely new offensive scheme, which will be the case again in Chad Morris’ first game.

While the Panthers have historically struggled against FBS opponents, they did upset Miami (Ohio) two seasons ago, and this is a veteran team. If playing an SEC opponent isn’t motivation enough, EIU has seven players on its roster from the state of Arkansas, as well as a head coach who is a former Razorback player.

Arkansas should win because of raw talent and home field advantage, but don’t be surprised if the Panthers make it a game into the second half.

EIU Depth Chart

Pos. No. Name Ht. Wt. Yr.

OFFENSE

QB 8 Harry Woodbery 6-2 200 Jr.

OR 11 Johnathan Brantley 6-1 195 Jr.

1 Scotty Gilkey Jr. 6-4 235 R-So.

RB 23 Isaiah Johnson 6-1 215 Sr.

24 Darshon McCullough 5-9 185 Jr.

WR 7 Aaron Gooch 5-9 170 R-Sr.

19 Robbie Lofton 6-3 180 R-So.

TE 86 James Sheehan 6-3 215 R-Jr.

87 Bron Hill 6-5 180 R-Fr.

RT 60 Aaron Miller 6-5 270 R-So.

66 Drew Walega 6-6 290 R-So.

RG 68 Luther Harris 6-6 370 Jr.

62 Travis Buckwalter 6-3 340 R-So.

C 74 Aaron Callaway 6-5 305 Sr.

76 Cole Hoover 6-4 250 R-So.

LG 77 Josh Doyle 6-5 285 R-Sr.

64 Johari Branch 6-5 315 R-Fr.

LT 72 Grant Branch IV 6-4 305 Sr.

66 Drew Walega 6-6 290 R-So.

WR 5 Matt Reyna 5-8 170 Jr.

85 Nick Atoyebi 6-0 180 R-Sr.

WR 15 Alexander Hollins 6-1 170 Sr.

16 Javon Turner 5-10 190 R-Sr.

DEFENSE

DE 32 Ryan Coleman 6-2 260 R-So.

99 Levi Watson 6-5 285 R-Sr.

DT 56 Taylon Shepard 6-0 290 R-Sr.

92 James Ubaike 6-4 280 So.

DT Terrell Greer5-10 310 Jr.

91 D’Mitri George 6-3 255 R-Fr.

DE 44 Josh Price 6-0 240 Sr.

99 Levi Watson 6-5 285 R-Sr.

LB 45 Joe Caputo 6-2 230 R-Jr.

28 Skyler Mayes 6-2 220 Fr.

LB 51 Dytarious Johnson 6-1 250 So.

50 Sean Williams 6-2 255 R-So.

CB 21Mark Williams 6-0 170 R-So.

6 Edwyn Brown 6-5 185 R-Fr.

SS 5 Iziah Gulley 6-2 190 R-So.

2 Bryce Dewberry 5-10 180 Fr.

FS 3 Cornelius Page 6-1 175 R-Jr.

1 Darius Waddell 6-0 170 Fr.

NB 31 Antonio Crosby 5-10 200 Jr.

20 Marcus Bornslater 6-3 190 R-Fr.

CB 12 DySaun Smith 5-10 185 R-Sr.

26 Jordan Jackson 6-0 170 R-So.

SPECIAL TEAMS

K 37 Matt Severino 5-10 165 So.

90 Josh Delgado 5-11 200 Fr.

P 43 Nick Bruno 6-1 185 R-Sr.

H 43 Nick Bruno 6-1 185 R-Sr.

LS 70 Bryce Coulson 6-3 245 So.

PR 7 Aaron Gooch 5-9 170 R-Sr.

5 Matt Reyna 5-8 170 Jr.

KR 15 Alexander Hollins 6-1 170 Sr.

24 Darshon McCullough 5-9 185 Jr.

EIU 2018 Schedule

Sept. 1 — at Arkansas, 3 p.m.

Sept. 8 — at Illinois State, 6:30 p.m.

Sept. 15 — Indiana State, 6 p.m.

Sept. 22 — Tennessee State, 2 p.m.

Sept. 29 — at Tennessee Tech, 6 p.m.

Oct. 6 — Murray State, 6 p.m.

Oct. 13 — at Jacksonville State, 3 p.m.

Oct. 20 — Tennessee-Martin, 2 p.m.

Oct. 27 — at Eastern Kentucky, Noon

Nov. 10 — Austin Peay, 1 p.m.

Nov. 17 — at Southeast Missouri, 1 p.m.

This story first appeared in Hawgs Illustrated

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