CHARLESTON — Eastern Illinois football and Tennessee Tech will meet on Saturday afternoon in the Ohio Valley Conference opener for both schools. EIU fell to 0-4 on the season after a 31-24 loss to Illinois State in the 109th Mid-America Classic on Saturday evening at O’Brien Field.
Although the Panthers fell short against ISU, EIU head coach Adam Cushing saw positive signs in the loss.
“It was some really good team football. When one side wasn’t playing their best, the other side would pick them up and vice versa. We saw the guys play as hard as they possibly could,” Cushing said. “This group showed up, played really hard, and when we had to make the play, we made the play. We were just a couple plays away. We showed what we were capable of when we play with that type of passion.”
The Panthers have had a challenging start to their schedule, playing three of their first four games on the road, including a loss at SEC member South Carolina. Tennessee Tech fell to 0-3 on the season with a loss at SEC member Tennessee. TTU has been shutout in its last two losses.
“Everyone in the OVC is 0-0 in conference. I know that is ‘coach speak’ but it is also a real thing. Now we have an opportunity to reinvent our season and I think the guys really understand that,” Cushing said. “Everything we have learned to this point, all the hits that we have taken and all the adversity we have faced has strengthened us for this opportunity.”
EIU picked up its loan victory in the spring against Tennessee Tech, 28-20.
“We had a heck of a game in the spring and it came down to that last possession,” Cushing said. “It is going to be another great game. You can see the improvement on their defense. We are going to have to be more disciplined than we have been and we need to clean up our penalties.”
Eastern Illinois special teams blocked a punt and a field goal against Illinois State. Last season, the Panthers blocked three kicks (two punts and a field goal).
“(Special teams coach) Omar Young has done an unbelievable job. He does a great job of putting the right personnel in the right places,” Cushing said. “We take advantage of whatever matchup we can find. Our guys believe that they can block a punt in any game and that is really fun to be a part of.”
As the OVC begins conference play, the future of the conference is uncertain.
Austin Peay has announced that it will be leaving for the ASUN (formerly the Atlantic Sun) Conference effective July 1. The move was ratified by Austin Peay’s Board of Trustees and announced last Friday. The college has been a member of the OVC since 1962.
“We appreciate (Austin Peay’s) many contributions to the conference over the years and are committed to providing their student-athletes with an exemplary championship experience this year,” OVC commissioner Beth DeBauche said. “We are clearly in a time of change for intercollegiate athletics, and the OVC embraces this moment, committed to the institutions and student-athletes whom we serve and confident in our future.
“That future is rooted in membership growth, and we are currently in discussions with other institutions that share our philosophy and want to prosper in today’s intercollegiate athletic environment by being part of the OVC.”
Here’s a look at Saturday’s game:
Time: Sat., Sept. 25 at 1:30 p.m.
Location: Tucker Stadium in Cookeville, Tenn.
Series: EIU leads the all-time series 20-7.
Last Meeting: March 21, 2021: EIU won 28-20 at home.
Next Game: Sat, Oct. 2 at Murray State at 4 p.m.
Notes: Eastern Illinois will be opening its 26th season as a member of the Ohio Valley Conference. The Panthers are 18-7 all-time in OVC openers including five league openers against Tennessee Tech. Eastern Illinois’ pass defense limited Illinois State to just 54 yards passing last Saturday. The Panthers are ranked sixth in the FCS in passing defense allowing just 115 yards per game. It was the second time this season, EIU has held an opponent under 100 yards passing after Indiana State had 87 yards in the Week Zero opener. EIU kicker Stone Galloway tied his career long with a 44-yard field goal on Saturday against Illinois State.
PHOTOS: Illinois State at Eastern Illinois
Contact Matthew Flaten at (217) 421-6968. Follow him on Twitter: @MattFlaten