Panthers aim to control ball better at Northwestern


Jason Howell

Red-shirt senior running back Shepard Little is forced out of bounce by two Southern Illinois-Carbondale players during the Panthers’ home opener on Sept. 6, 2014 at O’Brien Field.

Blake Nash, Staff Reporter

The Eastern football team will face its only Football Bowl Subdivision opponent on Saturday, as the Panthers head north to battle Northwestern.

Both teams are coming off different opening weeks, as the Panthers were defeated by Western Illinois, 33-5, while the Wildcats defeated No. 21 ranked Stanford, 16-6.

For this week’s game, Eastern coach Kim Dameron has been stressing that the Panthers need to control the football after turning it over six times last week.

The players face a Northwestern defense that features a good set of cornerbacks. Dameron said the Wildcats’ cornerbacks are what make them go.

“Their corners allow them to do anything they want to do, which is put a lot of people close to the line of scrimmage,” Dameron said. “What we’ve got to do, is do what we do. That’s execute, be physical and we’ve got to take care of the football.”

The rest of the defense appears to be a good, athletic bunch, in Dameron’s eyes. The Wildcats have a lot of size up front and have an athletic middle linebacker in sophomore Anthony Walker.

Walker was named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week, while red-shirt freshman quarterback Clayton Thorson was named Newcomer of the Week, following his first collegiate start.

Thorson was 12-of-24 for 105 yards and ran for 68 yards and a touchdown. Dameron thought that he performed well in his first start last week.

“He’ll improve from the last game to the next game,” Dameron said. “His abilities were like a typical first start, for a red-shirt freshman, but we’re expecting him to play well this week.”

To keep Thorson and sophomore running back Justin Jackson in check, the Panthers will need to keep their own offense on the field. To do that they will need to make first downs, which is something Northwestern did not allow Stanford to have too many of last week.

The Cardinal had 17 total first downs for the game, and were only 3-for-15 when trying to convert on third down. Dameron believes that converting on third down is always huge, and he always talks about its importance to his players.

Despite what Dameron tells the team, it was something the Panthers did not do enough of last week. Eastern was 6-of-13 on third-down conversions against Western Illinois.

“We talk about it every week. We have a certain goal we have to attain to play the way we want to play, and we weren’t even close to it last week,” Dameron said. “Defensively we were, but offensively, not even close.”

Just days after the Wildcats defeated Stanford, their coach Pat Fitzgerald said he was still unhappy with their performance. He called it an average performance and that being average comes from being inconsistent. Dameron agreed with Fitzgerald.

“If you’re inconsistent, you’re average, probably even below average,” Dameron said. “There’s no way we can go up there and be inconsistent in anything. We’re going to have to play extremely well to compete with them.”

Kickoff is scheduled for 3 p.m. Saturday, and the game can be seen on ESPNews.


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