The last time that Eastern coach Kim Dameron found himself on NFL turf was during the 2011 Cotton Bowl. Dameron was the safeties coach for Ole Miss, which defeated Oklahoma State 21-7 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Tex.
This Saturday, Dameron and the Panthers will take on Tennessee State at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, which is the home of the Tennessee Titans. It’ll also be the Tigers homecoming game, but they’ll be left without red-shirt freshman quarterback O’Shay Ackerman Carter, who was injured in last week’s 28-14 loss to University of Tennessee at Martin.
Junior backup quarterback Ronald Butler will start for the Tigers, as the Panthers look to dominate the line of scrimmage.
“For us to win this league, to win the next game, our front seven have to dominate their offense,” Dameron said. “I felt like we did that last week. We’ve got to do it again this week.”
Last week the Panthers defense held the Southeast Missouri offense to 334 yards of total offense, including 117 yards rushing. Defensive players and coaches said that they are looking to be more furious in future weeks, but that holding an offense to 117 yards rushing was a big accomplishment for the team.
Junior linebacker Seth McDonald has collected 11 total tackles in the last two weeks, after averaging 13 tackles per game during nonconference play. But the drop in tackles has not served as warning sign for McDonald, especially since the Panthers have won their first two Ohio Valley Conference games.
“We’re winning games right now. I could care less about how many tackles I get,” McDonald said. “If someone told me, ‘You’re going to get one tackle and we’re going to win,’ I’d rather have that.”
Eastern enters this weekend ranked No. 6 in the Football Championship Subdivision, averaging 8.8 tackles for loss per game. The Panthers are also second in the conference behind Jacksonville State, which averages 9.5 per game.
“We’ve been good at times, but we can be better,” Dameron said. “Our front seven has the ability to be very good, and they’re getting better.”
Dameron said that he thought the Eastern defensive line was active last week, but the Panthers still need to be able to finish off tackles, and begin to limit rushing yards. Red-shirt senior Dino Fanti will lead that charge for the Panthers, as he has for the last two years.
“Everything has to start with Dino. It’s been that way around here for a few years,” Dameron said. “He’s active and intelligent. “He’s played at an all-conference level, and we expect him to continue to play that way.”
Last week Fanti had a season-high two tackles for loss, which gives him five for the season. His experience on the field has coincided with the emergence of McDonald, who is in his first year starting at middle linebacker.
McDonald said being a team player should hopefully help him make plays.
“I’m just going to do what these coaches tell me do: be in the right spot, be a team player,” McDonald said. “Hopefully the plays will come from there.”
Tennessee State comes into this game with a 3-2 overall record, but are 0-2 in OVC play. That doesn’t change the fact that the Tigers are a dangerous team Dameron said.
“TSU’s a very scary team, dangerous. (Rod) Reed’s done a great job,” Dameron said. “We’re just trying to make sure we’re 1-0 at the end of the week, keeping our focus on us, and making sure we’re the best us we can be.”
Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. in Nashville, TN at Nissan Stadium.
Blake Nash can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]