Eastern begins OVC title defense against Austin Peay

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Eastern begins OVC title defense against Austin Peay

The Eastern football offensive lines up against University of Minnesota on Aug. 28 at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minn. with Jalen Whitlow at quarterback.

The Eastern football offensive lines up against University of Minnesota on Aug. 28 at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minn. with Jalen Whitlow at quarterback.

Jason Howell

The Eastern football offensive lines up against University of Minnesota on Aug. 28 at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minn. with Jalen Whitlow at quarterback.

Jason Howell

Jason Howell

The Eastern football offensive lines up against University of Minnesota on Aug. 28 at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minn. with Jalen Whitlow at quarterback.

Aldo Soto, Sports Editor

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The time to grow up and execute has arrived for the Eastern football team.

Ohio Valley Conference play begins against Austin Peay at 1:30 p.m. Saturday at O’Brien Field – coach Kim Dameron said the Panthers’ transition period is over.

“The time is now,” Dameron said. “We’ve had three non-conference opponents and I’d like to say they were preseason games, but they weren’t, they count. It’s a lot better to learn from your team winning games, but nonetheless we’ve learned a lot. We need to grow up in some areas on the football team.”

At 0-3, Eastern hosts the only other winless team in the OVC as Austin Peay enters O’Brien Field at 0-2.

Following double-digit losses to start the season, Dameron said the coaching staff is simplifying the offense, but still keeping it diverse.

Eastern’s offense has averaged nine points in the second half of its first three games.

“You’ve seen that we’ve had more yardage than our three opponents, but we haven’t finished anything,” he said. “We have to learn to finish things for us to win.”

The quarterback position for Eastern leads the conference in passing yards, as Jalen Whitlow and Andrew Manley have combined to average 280 passing yards per game. Unfortunately for the Panthers that statistic has not translated into points, as they are No. 7 in the OVC in scoring (18.7 points per game).

The Panthers’ quarterback duo is one group of the team that Dameron said needs to grow up, as well as the Eastern cornerbacks.

“We’re not young, but inexperienced in this offense at quarterback because it’s all new to them,” he said. “We have to continue to demand excellence in practice and excellence in games.”

While Whitlow and Manley have split time so far this season, the urge to go with only one quarterback has crossed the mind of Dameron.

Against Illinois State, Whitlow was the quarterback in six of the seven second-half possessions for the Eastern offense. Manley ended the game with 13 pass attempts, which was a season-low for the red-shirt senior.

“We talk about (going with one quarterback) we have, the thing you better be careful with is you have to have two quarterbacks because if you play only one and he goes down you’re done,” Dameron said.

Manley and Whitlow have thrown a combined seven interceptions this season, while throwing three touchdowns all from Manley.

Unlike the first three games, though, Dameron said planning for future opponents one quarterback would receive more playing time than the other. The style, either being more elusive and athletic, which Whitlow provides, or more pass-oriented, which Manley presents will determine what Dameron believes is best suited to defeat upcoming teams.

“I’m not about taking one and just pushing him off to the side and saying, ‘no, you’re not in our plans anymore,’” he said. “To me the prudent thing to do is maybe giving one guy more reps and get him ready to play because that’s the style of football that we feel we need to play and as we’re going forward that’s what we’re going to do more and more.”

Defensively, Eastern allowed two long touchdown passes to Illinois State wide receiver Lechein Neblett. Dameron said the Panthers did a good job after the opening drive in stopping the run, but the 61 and 39-yard touchdown receptions by Neblett were the most disappointing aspect from the defense.

Austin Peay’s only touchdown of the season was a 45-yard catch by wide receiver Javier Booker against Chattanooga. Dameron hopes Eastern’s defensive backs have a bounce back game after Saturday’s loss.

“We have to be able to play at a high level and not give up those big plays,” Dameron said.

The Governors haven’t had many big plays this season, as they are averaging 84 yards through the air in their first two games.

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