Dameron seeks consistency

Red-shirt+junior+running+back+Shepard+Little+is+forced+out+of+bounce+by+two+Southern+Illinois-Carbondale+players+during+the+Panthers%27+home+opener+on+Saturday+at+O%27Brien+Field.++The+Panthers+lost+to+the+Salukis+38-21.

Jason Howell

Red-shirt junior running back Shepard Little is forced out of bounce by two Southern Illinois-Carbondale players during the Panthers' home opener on Saturday at O'Brien Field. The Panthers lost to the Salukis 38-21.

Aldo Soto, Sports Editor

Eastern football coach Kim Dameron has seen a lack of consistency through the Panthers’ first two games.

The Panthers’ offense and defense have displayed some positive glimpses against Minnesota and Southern Illinois-Carbondale, but both facets of the team have not come together.

“There’s been flashes of some pretty good defense in both games and some pretty good offense,” Dameron said. “We haven’t done anything consistently.”

Eastern heads to Illinois State for a noon kickoff Saturday, when Dameron is hoping to see an inspired effort after the Panthers’ 38-21 home opening loss.

The Panthers scored 21 points in the first half Saturday and then were shutout by the Salukis in the second half. That performance followed three scoreless quarters against Minnesota, where Eastern scored its 20 points in the final seven minutes of the fourth quarter.

Red-shirt senior Andrew Manley has led Eastern to most of its points throughout the season, throwing three touchdown passes and rushing in two more. The quarterback has been rotating in and out of games with junior Jalen Whitlow, but Manley said he does not have a problem with it.

“That’s on the coaches and that’s their decision to make,” Manley said. “Whenever my number is called I’m going to try and make the best out of my opportunity to help the team win. Jalen is trying to do the same thing. I don’t have an opinion on it. I believe whatever the coaches decide is best for the team.”

Dameron has started Whitlow in the first couple of games, as Manley has come in after a couple of series. Whitlow, who transferred from Kentucky in May, leads Eastern in rushing this season with 116 yards on 25 carries.

However, Whitlow has yet to throw a touchdown pass and is 20-of-37 for 195 yards with an interception.

Manley has attempted 27 more passes than Whitlow and has 440 passing yards, which is third most in the Ohio Valley Conference. Dameron has said since before the start of the season that both quarterbacks have the ability to run the entire offense, but through two games Manley has thrown the ball a lot more than Whitlow.

Heading into the 103rd Mid-America Classic in Normal, Manley said he has to continue to develop to take his game into the next level.

“I just have to keep studying the defense every week and keep being smart with the ball and keep trust in everybody,” Manley said following Saturday’s loss.

Under an entire new coaching staff, Dameron who is a head coach for the first time in his career said the Panthers still have to get used to the new schemes being run.

Eastern has only scored in three quarters this season and red-shirt junior Shepard Little, who was tabbed as a preseason All-OVC running back, has not reached 100 rushing yards.

“We’re transitioning from one system offensively to a little bit of a different philosophy,” Dameron said. “It takes a while and so to get the timing and the ability to run the football against two stout defenses we just have to continue to pound the rock.”

Defensively, the Panthers have gotten to good starts in both games only to give up several points in the closing quarters.

Eastern’s defense allowed 14 points to Minnesota in the season opener through three quarters, but was then overwhelmed by the size of the Golden Gophers in the fourth quarter. Southern caused more havoc in the second half of its game, scoring 24 unanswered points to seal its comeback win at O’Brien Field.

The Panthers trailed 14-0 at halftime in Minnesota, but then led 21-14 at home against Southern. Ultimately both games ended with losses for Dameron.

“We have to transition into what we’re doing and grow up in some spots,” he said. “We have to become more consistent.”

Aldo Soto can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]