The Eastern football team and its Saturday opponent Eastern Kentucky are trending in very different directions this season.
Where Eastern is a pass-first team that has struggled to run the ball this season, the Colonels deploy a four-running back, power-run offense that completes just 48 percent of its passes.
Eastern is a team that rarely turns the ball over on offense: Starting quarterback Johnathan Brantley has yet to throw an interception this season, and Eastern Kentucky prides itself on a secondary that loves to force turnovers.
Eastern is coming off a 24-21 overtime win over Tennessee-Martin, one that boosted morale for the upcoming week in a big way, and Eastern Kentucky is still reeling from a 34-6 drubbing at the hands of Murray State, after which the program fired its offensive coordinator.
When Eastern is up, Eastern Kentucky is down. Where the Panthers throw the ball, the Colonels run. One team wears blue, the other sports red.
What these two teams do share is an identical two conference wins this season, and the need to extend that number to three after Saturday.
Eastern Kentucky’s offense was able to muster just six points against a Murray State defense which has had a knack for giving up lots of points this season, and with that the Colonels let go of their offensive coordinator.
But, Eastern head coach Kim Dameron is expecting to see Eastern Kentucky’s best game on Saturday.
“I don’t know how the change in offensive coordinators or who is calling the plays or whatever will affect them offensively, that’s something we’re going to have to see as we go into the game,” Dameron said.
What is known about Eastern Kentucky is that its offensive backfield can do a lot of damage if they are not contained, and Eastern’s defense is giving up 228 rushing yards per game, the second-most in the Ohio Valley Conference.
Eastern Kentucky will utilize, for the most part, the duo of running backs L.J. Scott and Daryl McCleskey, who rank 4th and 2nd in the OVC in rushing yards, respectively.
“Scott has been the one over the past couple of weeks that has been really good,” Dameron said. “But they’re good in the offensive line and they commit to the run, that’s what they do, and they don’t try to be a big passing team and right now to be honest with you they’re only hitting about 48 percent. So it’s not something that they’re just going to get well over night.”
Dameron continued and said, “To me against us what I think they’ll try to do is take the air out of the ball, run the football, keep the ball, keep the clock rolling, make sure that we’re not on the field and then play great defense.”
The passing game has been an issue for Eastern Kentucky this season. The Colonels average just 113 passing yards per game and have just five passing touchdowns this season.
The Colonels have tried three different quarterbacks this season in an effort to remedy the anemic numbers of the passing game, but none of them have shelled out great results. Dakota Allen has started six games, but is completing just 50 percent of his passes, and has just one touchdown and one interception this season.
Austin Scott has been even worse, completing 44 percent of his passes, throwing three touchdowns and six interceptions. Alphonso Howard was also a dud at quarterback, completing just 31 percent of his passes.
“They’re a run-first offense and they have a really good group of running backs and they’ve shown that they can be explosive at times and they just haven’t had the consistency at the quarterback position or whatever to be able to sustain that,” Dameron said.
Eastern and Eastern Kentucky play at 12 p.m. Saturday in Richmond, Ky.
JJ Bullock can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]