Saturday was the 11th practice of a 15-practice fall ball model for the Eastern football team. The Panthers played a scrimmage Saturday as their preparations continue for the season, which the OVC announced last week is scheduled to begin Feb. 21.
Head coach Adam Cushing said that the scrimmage was a good opportunity for the team to work on the situational football they have discussed virtually for months and recently began practicing on the field.
“It was great. Put the ball down and move it, get the coaches off the field to put the guys in those situations so that they have to click,” he said. “It’s not just five-straight plays of third down. They’ve got to clock from third down back to first down or now its fourth and short, now we’re in the red zone, all those little details that you miss when you’re just scripting practice over and over and over again. It was awesome for both sides of the football to have to come out and put themselves mentally in those situations.”
Cushing said that another aspect of the scrimmage and the last several fall practices it to finalize the depth chart and figure out which players are going to fill out special teams.
“We’re starting to take out special teams depth from three deep down to two deep, and say ‘okay, these are the guys that are on the bus,'” he said. “We’ve got to start working with the guys that are on the bus and bleeds from the offense and defense. Who’s going to be on the bus offensively and defensively? Those are the guys we need to work with on special teams.”
The scrimmage came on the heels of the release of the OVC schedule for Spring 2021, which will see the Panthers play seven conference games from Feb. 21 to April 11. All but one game is scheduled for a Sunday afternoon, with the April 3 game against Jacksonville State being played on the typical Saturday.
“I think guys are excited to go play football. That’s what I’ve heard from guys, just excitement that we’ve announced the games, that we can point to something,” he said. “Guys are excited to play on Sundays, something different. If everything’s different, what’s one more thing, right?”
In addition to Sunday games, another change will be the weather. It will be colder at the start of the season rather than the end. In 2019, the Panthers played two early-season games where the temperatures neared triple digits. That will not be the case this season.
“It’s going to be cold, but you know what, football gets played in the cold,” Cushing said. “We’ll have a great plan to make sure bodies are in the right place health and safety wise, but we’re going to go play football whenever they put it down.”
Another dynamic to the spring season is that some of the teams in the OVC have played or will be playing games in the fall. Eastern Kentucky will not participate in the spring due to a full slate of games this fall. Jacksonville State has played two games this month with two more to Austin Peay played three games in August and September and Southeast Missouri has one game scheduled for Oct. 30.
Cushing said that he is unsure what kind of advantage these teams will have, if any.
“Certainly you’ve got to assume there’s some things that they’ll get out of it, but we’ll always look at it from our perspective not somebody else’s perspective ,” he said.
Adam Tumino can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]