The Eastern football team struggled on offense so far this season, and that may be putting it mildly.
Nineteen points in four games, last in the conference in points and yards, just two touchdowns and two field goals; that is currently the resume of Eastern’s offense as it heads into conference play Saturday against Tennessee Tech.
The offensive line has seen a variety of combinations that at times has featured as many as three freshmen on it and other guys playing positions out of their norm.
Senior wide receiver Matt Reyna is hurt, as is senior tight end James Sheehan.
At any given moment, there can be as many as 10 new faces on the field for the offense than there was a year ago.
There have been new faces learning new schemes at new positions facing opponents that do not allow room for error. When it gets stripped all down to its simplest form, what you have through four games is an offense that has simply a lack of points to show for itself.
What this unit does not lack, however?
Head coach Adam Cushing, offensive coordinator John Kuceyeski and the players, all have the same sentiment about the offense, it is not a matter of “if” the offense is going to click, but a matter of “when.”
“I think they’re feeling confident after the last game and I believe that the points will come and I know that the points will come, and I think that our team will be really dangerous because the defense is really putting us in a position to win right now, we have to play complimentary football,” Kuceyeski said.
The confidence began to trickle back in the second half of the team’s 16-6 loss to Indiana State Saturday, when the offense suddenly started to move the ball down the field again.
In the first half the offense looked once again like much of the same.
Short gains on quick plays, sacks and hurried quarterbacks on downfield plays and running backs finding little space to go with the football.
But then something clicked, what it exactly was can be left for interpretation by the eye, but it was apparent that the offense was moving the ball in the second half. It was not perfect, and not always successful, but things were starting to click.
In the third quarter the Panthers drove down the field, compiling 73 yards on 13 plays that resulted in a rushing touchdown by quarterback Harry Woodbery. It was the Panthers’ first touchdown since week one.
“I saw a team (in the second half) that really was having confidence from the sideline to the field, I saw them running the football, I saw the o-line having their best game to date in how they finished, they played really, really hard and got guys on the ground and put our tailbacks in space and our tailbacks won in space and I think that they will continue to do that and some guys made some big catches,” Kuceyeski said.
The Panthers moved the ball well in the second half against Indiana State, but untimely turnovers and penalties ultimately cost them the game and killed what momentum they had going.
It left the Panthers with a feeling that they were just one or two plays away from flipping the game on its head.
“I think you’re a turnover away, a penalty away on the last drive from driving for the leading score, and I think that that is a momentum play for the program, I do,” Kuceyeski said. “I think it’s a momentum play for the program that we have to make and that we will make this week.”
Two of the main components of Eastern’s struggles on offense this season have been youth and guys playing out of position.
But Kuceyeski said all of it has been a part of a learning curve that come with the territory of playing new guys and installing a new scheme.
“I think you have a lot of guys playing in a position they have never played before, whether they are a freshman, sophomore, junior, senior, in a scheme they have never played in,” Kuceyeski said. “So obviously it has been a learning process, every game it takes something from and grow from. I think that’s our mindset is to get one day better and to really focus on the detail and just let each moment come and take it for what it’s worth and succeed in that moment.”
The learning process has been something that has been talked about extensively this season.
Everyone seems to have an understanding that the new offense is in its infant stage but may be growing up fast.
Kuceyeski said that obviously he would like to see 50 points a game from his offense but recognized too the situation the team is in. Both Kuceyeski and Cushing have preached the same mantra all season: Focus on getting one week, one game, one play better, every time.
“I think that the confidence is at a different level with the offense right now,” Cushing said. “Just seeing us move the football, feeling that we were doing whatever we wanted to, just be doing our job and being consistent.”
JJ Bullock can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]