The student news site of Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois.

The Daily Eastern News

The student news site of Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois.

The Daily Eastern News

The student news site of Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois.

The Daily Eastern News

Trying to get back on track

The special teams unit was the Achilles heel of the Eastern football game last weekend in a 37-7 loss to Central Arkansas.

The Panthers called on red-shirt senior cornerback Rashad Haynes and freshman cornerback Pete Houlihan to be the team’s punt returners Saturday.

They dropped the ball.

Multiple times, both punt returners dropped the ball on punts, trying to run before the catch or just getting plain unlucky.

Haynes, for example, watched the first punt of the game bounce off of his head and into the hands of a Central Arkansas player.

The trend continued throughout, and the Panthers’ special teams unit struggled.

This week in practice, special teams coach Matthew Smiley worked on fixing the punt return problem for the Panthers.

“We made it ridiculously hard to catch the ball,” Smiley said.

Smiley said he had punt coverage teams basically running into the returner, making it difficult for the player to catch the ball, a problem they had last weekend.

According to Smiley, Haynes, Houlihan and sophomore wide receiver Erik Lora are in open competition for the punt returner’s job.

Although the special teams unit struggled, they weren’t alone.

Offensive coordinator Roy Wittke said the offense is responsible for the poor play.

“It is on our shoulders,” Wittke said.

Wittke said Eastern needs to have better quarterback play out of red-shirt sophomore quarterback Brandon Large.

The offense gained only 120 yards Saturday against Central Arkansas. Large only contributed to 52 of those yards.

“The turnovers came from one position – quarterback,” Wittke said. “The ball is on the ground too much. He was making some bad decisions, and made a bad decision on one interception.”

Large was 10-for-24 through the air, with two interceptions. His 52 total passing yards was matched in one run by senior running back Jimmy Potempa.

Wittke said he noticed a lack of tempo and pace Saturday, which needs to change.

In practice, Wittke said he took the team back to square one.

“We need to be leaving the huddle with great tempo and pace,” Wittke said.

The Panthers are going to have to be prepared on offense against Tennessee Martin, a team that isn’t afraid to blitz.

According to Wittke, UTM is a team that blitzes 40 percent of the time on first downs.

Wittke said the defense is a little bit different than Central Arkansas, in that UTM shows a lot of different fronts on the defensive line.

UTM senior linebacker Josh Bey gives the Skyhawks the ability to do many different things on defense, Wittke said.

Bey plays a lot of position, although he is only listed as a linebacker. Wittke said Bey might be best rushing off of the end of the line, as a defensive end.

The Panthers are also worried about the UTM offense that runs a similar style to Central Arkansas – a two-quarterback offense.

Defensive coordinator Roc Bellantoni said UTM’s passing attack average 17 yards per completion last week.

However, Bellantoni said the Skyhawks are a run-first team and will look to control the clock.

The Panthers haven’t come back with a win in Martin, Tenn. the last three years they’ve played there. Both teams are trying to earn their first win at 6 p.m. Saturday.

Alex McNamee can be reached at 581-7944 or

[email protected]

Trying to get back on track

Trying to get back on track

Senior corner back CJ James tackles sophomore running back Anthony Blackmon during the Sept. 11 game at O’Brien Field against the University of Central Arkansas. (Jordan Boner

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