Panthers to face driven Northwestern team

Blake Nash, Staff Reporter

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The Eastern football team will travel north to face Northwestern in Evanston at 3 p.m on Saturday. The Panthers were defeated in their opener by Western Illinois 33-5, while the Wildcats upset the No. 21 ranked team in the country, Stanford, 16-6.

Even with the big victory last week, the Wildcats and coach Pat Fitzgerald are still looking to become a better football team as the season goes on.

“After watching the video (from the Stanford game), there aren’t too many big heads around here right now,” Fitzgerald told reporters on Monday. “The eye in the sky doesn’t lie.”

Fitzgerald was mostly unpleased with the offensive line, which played nine players in the victory. Both he and offensive line coach Adam Cushing planned on using more lineman, since they haven’t made up their mind on the starting five yet.

“We didn’t play enough guys,” Fitzgerald said. “Right now we don’t have a consistent five. So a lot of work for that group. A lot of work.”

Northwestern also debuted a new quarterback on Saturday in red-shirt freshman Clayton Thorson. Thorson completed 12-of-24 passes for 105 yards in first start for the Wildcats. He also ran for 68 yards and their only touchdown on eight carries. Thorson was named the Big Ten newcomer of the week for his performance.

As for facing the Panthers this week, Fitzgerald said he was surprised by the outcome of their season opener last Thursday. The Panthers to him appeared to be a good team when he watched them on film in the offseason and last weekend.

“They run multiple packages on offense and are very talented,” Fitzgerald said. “You mix that in with the defense they’re a good-looking team.”

Fitzgerald said he was impressed with redshirt senior defensive tackle Dino Fanti, who he called “a heck of a player.” The rest of the defense is athletic and has a great press package Fitzgerald said.

Fanti and rest of the Panthers front seven will face a Northwestern rushing attack led by sophomore running back Justin Jackson. Jackson rushed for 134 yards on 28 carries last week against Stanford.

Eastern’s offense will face a Northwestern defense, which features the reigning Big Ten defensive player of the week, sophomore linebacker Anthony Walker. He totaled 10 tackles last week, including five that were solo.

Fitzgerald said despite these accomplishments, he will not settle on being average. In his view, a team that identifies itself as average comes across as one that is inconsistent.

“I thought we had a very average performance as a team on Saturday,” Fitzgerald said. “I think we can be much better in all three phases.”

This will be the second straight season that the Panthers have faced a Big Ten opponent. They were defeated by Minnesota in last year’s season opener 42-20. Eastern is 0-7 all-time against Big Ten opponents.

 

Blake Nash can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]