Offense falls flat in loss to Illinois State.

JJ Bullock, Editor-in-Chief

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While the Eastern football team struggled to move the ball on offense Saturday, mustering just 197 total yards, Illinois State on the other hand was able to do just enough on offense to spoil the Panthers home opener in a 21-3 win. 

Eastern’s defense did its part to limit Illinois State in the loss, the Panthers held the Redbirds to 285 yards and 21 points, allowing a few big plays that changed the game. But, an anemic offensive showing, for the second week in a row, has the Panthers walking away losers on Saturday.  

Of the 197 yards Eastern put up, 106 came from the legs of quarterback Johnathan Brantley, who after the game was frustrated with the offense’s inability to finish drives.  

“We just have to emphasize finishing drives,” Brantley said. “0-2 in the red zone and 0-2 on fourth downs, that’s point we’re leaving out there.” 

Brantley spent a large majority of his time on the field running from pressuring defenders rather than being able to look down the field for receivers, this was credited to protection issues on the offensive line by head coach Adam Cushing. Cushing also spoke of how the offense needs to be better the other 10 guys other than Brantley.  

“We need to make (offense) an 11-man operation more consistently,” Cushing said. “Quite frankly as you look at it we’re out there and there’s 10 guys doing their job and everything on offense, that’s just the nature of offensive football, you can have 10 guys do their job exactly the way its supposed to be, one guy doesn’t and it looks like the worst play in the history of football.” 

The offense did not look good for Eastern for the third week in a row. In three games this season the unit has put up just 13 point and for the second week in a row was held to under 200 yards.  

Brantley’s 106 yards rushing is an impressive number to look at, all throughout the game he was breaking tackles and making defenders miss, but 106 yards rushing from a quarterback does not look as great when in total only 197 yards were put up.  

Johnathan (Brantley) gave us everything he had, he really was battling hard and we’re so proud of him for how hard he played, truly,” Cushing said. “We just have to get more guys to help him out and that is not any particular individual, that’s all of them, we just all have to do our job consistently, because I really think Johnathan was just battling so hard out there and we’re happy for him, proud of him. But for an offense to move the ball consistently, to consistently move the offense we need to have everybody doing it.” 

Brantley reiterated multiple times that the offense will get thing figured out in the coming weeks, and said that right now it is just a tough situation to be in.  

“We don’t have a choice, we have to (be confident),” Brantley said. “We will figure out a way to do it, we have to. We have got to help our defense out, so we will figure it out.” 

The Eastern defense on the other hand looked good for four quarters, and outside of a couple of big plays, including a 55-yard touchdown run by running back James Robinson, Eastern kept Illinois State’s offense in check.  

Eastern linebacker Dytarious Johnson made life hard for quarterback Brady Davis and Illinois State’s ball carriers, finishing the game with a team high nine tackles, one sack and three tackles for loss.  

“Our main priority was setting the edge,” Johnson said. “When we didn’t set our edge that’s the only time they got a big play on us really. But we just had to be physical and set the edge, that was really the only main problem that we had.” 

The defense playing well is an encouraging sign for the program, particularly because the defense last season was a blend between ugly and erratic at best, so for the team to hold Illinois State to just 21 points is a positive takeaway.  

Johnson said the biggest difference between this season and last season is injuries and effort running to the ball. 

“Last year we just kind of gave up at the beginning of the season when we started losing, but this year we have a lot of confidence in ourselves,” Johnson said. “We grew very close as a defense, and as a team, but especially as a defense we are all comfortable with each other so we are playing for each other really.” 

Illinois State torched Eastern for 48 points and 582 yards last season, and this year managed just the 21 points and 285 total yards.  

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