Panthers set to face Gamecocks


Ashanti Thomas | The Daily Eastern News Eastern wide receiver Matt Judd attempts to hurdle a tackler during a kick return against Indiana State on Aug. 28 in Terre Haute. Judd returned two kickoffs in the game for 33 yards and a long of 20 yards. Eastern lost the game 26-21.

Autumn Schulz, Assistant Sports Editor

Putting the loss of the season opener last Saturday behind them is exactly what the Eastern football team plans to do as they gear up for non-conference play this weekend against South Carolina.

Saturday’s game will be a new experience for both teams.

The Gamecocks will open their season against the Panthers not only with a new coach, but it will be the team’s first time playing against a member of the OVC.

Conversely, this will be the second time that the Eastern football team has played against a member of the SEC after losing previously to Arkansas in 2018.

Head coach Adam Cushing said he and the Panthers are looking forward to the matchup.

“It’s certainly going to be fun,” Cushing said. “That’s why you play college football to play in those types of environments, but it’s still just football and that’s the approach. We have to focus on what we do best and do it to our best.”

The Panthers will enter the second week of their season with full intention of picking up their first win.

Some Eastern players said that they are looking forward to the chance of playing an SEC team and gaining that experience.

“To be playing at South Carolina, a team in the SEC, with a lot of my friends and family there watching; it’s going to be exciting and a blessing,” redshirt junior safety Bryce Dewberry said.

The Panther’s offense will be led by freshman quarterback Otto Kuhns who is 14-of-29 for 253 yards on the season after last week’s opener against Indiana State, passing his career-high of 153 yards set last season.

Freshman running back Harrison Bey-Buie leads the team with 57 rushing yards and 11 carries, averaging 5.2 yards per carry.

Senior wide receiver Tyler Ringwood leads the team with 5 catches for 116 yards. Last year, Ringwood caught 9 passes for 128 yards while at Charlotte.

Defensively, the Panthers are led by Jason Johnson, who currently leads the team with 8 tackles. Johnson averaged 11 tackles per game last year, ranking ninth in the FCS.

To make their communication more solid going into week two, the Panthers had to prepare to play in front of upwards of 60,000 people.

“We pumped in crowd noise to make sure that we understand that communication is different,” Cushing said. “When you have between 60-to-80,000 people going bananas it really is hard to hear out there. We tried to make it very difficult for them to hear in practice, so they had to be extra demonstrative with their communication, but nothing more than that.”

Sophomore quarterback Luke Doty and the Gamecocks are more than used to playing in front of such a large number of people.

Doty appeared in 8 games as quarterback last year, passing for 405 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

Junior running back Kevin Harris led the Gamecocks last season with 1,138 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns, with an average of 6.4 carries per game.

Harris became the 11th player in South Carolina’s program history to post a 1,000-yard season on the ground.

South Carolina’s top returner on defense, Damani Staley, had 51 tackles last season with a career high of 12 tackles against Missouri.

Overall, South Carolina was 2-8 last season with an average of 23.5 points per game with 167.9 rushing yards per game and 187.2 passing yards per game.

Eastern was 1-5 with an average of 21 points per game with 125 rushing yards per game and 253 passing yards per game.

Cushing said that no matter who the opponent is, the team’s goal this weekend is to simply be their best.

“We want to be 1-0,” Cushing said. “We are going out to play better than the way we did the week before. Honestly, we talk about it as a football team, it doesn’t matter who’s lining up on the other sideline our goal is to be our best.”