Column: What can the Eastern football team expect moving forward?


Bryan Bund

Eastern linebacker Dytarious Johnson (51) and defensive end Josh Price (44) tackle Illinois State running back Jordan Birch in a 48-10 loss on Sept. 8. The defense for Eastern has struggled this season to the point where an enitre system overhaul may happen.

JJ Bullock, Sports Editor

What lies ahead for the Eastern football team, who now sits at 0-3 after a 55-41 loss to Indiana State on Saturday, is a difficult question to answer. And with conference play beginning this Saturday, it is certainly not a question the program wants to be asking itself right now.

All the questions that will sit with the team during conference play revolve around what will be done with the defense.

The defense is giving up 52.7 points per game this season, and the game against Indiana State was so bad, head coach Kim Dameron said he did not think they did anything well and that some kind of changes were coming, maybe even a complete overhaul of the system.

The offense seems to have itself figured out well enough; the unit put up 501 total yards against Indiana State and is averaging 404.7 yards per game. The quarterback situation, which has been the offense’s biggest question since last spring, possibly reached a conclusion in week three. Quarterback Johnathan Brantley passed for 443 yards and four touchdowns, while Harry Woodbery threw just five passes in the game, completing two of them. It would not be surprising to see Brantley shoulder most of the load during conference play.

At running back, Jamal Scott is third in the OVC in rushing, and wide receiver Alexander Hollins has been setting the world on fire, leading the conference in yards and touchdowns.

So, while the offense appears to be stable at this point, it all comes back to the defense. What happens with the defense will determine if the Panthers are looking at a potential two-win season or at making a move back into the upper-echelon of the conference.

If the defense plays this weekend against Tennessee State the way it has in the first three games, the Panthers will lose and fall to 0-4. Right now that seems like a given if the defense does not improve.

 If the defense improves even just a little bit and wrinkles out some of the major problems they have had this season, and the offense plays at a high level, then Eastern can give Tennessee State a game. 

Last year, the defense is what carried Eastern through the season, and it played at a very good level. If the defense can find its roots from last year and the offense plays at a high level, then Eastern should probably beat Tennessee State. But, right now that seems like a long shot to happen in just one week of time.

If the defense is completely overhauled, who can tell how long it would take before it is ready to help the team win games. It would probably be safe to say it wouldn’t be ready by Tennessee State, and maybe even the week after that against Tennessee Tech.

Right now, the defense is not good enough to beat middle-level OVC teams like Tennessee State and Eastern Kentucky, much less Austin Peay and powerhouse Jacksonville State. 

Eastern should still be able to beat the hapless Tennessee Tech, even with the way defense is playing, and Eastern should still be better than Murray State. But currently, that one is probably closer than it should be. With that said, if the defense does not improve at all, that means Eastern could be staring a two-win season in the face. 

That is why defensive improvement needs to happen, and the sooner the better. Eastern’s roster is more talented than two-win production; a two-win season would be an embarrassment. 

The Panthers have the player talent where they should be competing easily in the tier with teams like Tennessee State, Southeast Missouri, Eastern Kentucky and should easily be ahead of Tennessee Tech and Murray State. 

During these defensive changes that will be coming, keeping players healthy will be invaluable to the Panthers. 

All-conference cornerback Mark Williams got a little banged up against Indiana State, and linebacker Dytarious Johnson, who may well be the team’s best player, was frequently on the ground holding his arm.

For the defense to be successful in this transitional phase, the team needs these two guys, especially, to be healthy and productive. 

The coming weeks will be very telling for Eastern and all of it will depend on the progress of the defense. That unit will be the difference between a season of embarrassment or a season with the narrative of a team that fought and turned things around.

JJ Bullock can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected].