The student news site of Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois.

The Daily Eastern News

The student news site of Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois.

The Daily Eastern News

The student news site of Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois.

The Daily Eastern News

Panthers continue to step up in preparation for Cowboys

Tyriq Johnson
MJ Flowers, a red shirt freshman running back, practice catching footballs before team stretches at O‘Brien Field Wednesday Evening.

With a 14-13 win against Illinois State last Saturday, the Panthers look to seek back-to-back wins at home against the Cowboys.

Panthers’ Head Coach Chris Wilkerson shared the teams’ key strengths going into this game.

“I would say certainly, you know, we’ve really done a good job with stepping up,” Wilkerson said. “We had a ton of guys step up on Saturday. We’ve had guys step up in different situations. And we tell the guys every week ‘Hey, I don’t know who it’s going to be, and I don’t know when it’s going to be,’ but somebody who doesn’t think they’re going to play as much as they want is going to have their number called, and their task is to be ready every single time their number is called in and do the best they can.”

Wilkerson said that he was also proud of the defense.

“I’m certainly very pleased with our development on defense,” Wilkerson said. “Our ability to take the football away from offensive has been great. Three of our four special teams were very good and very solid. We’ve got some work to do on kickoff return, and offensively, we’ve done a good job taking what they give us. We’ve been much more efficient in our passing game, but certainly, we’ve still had too many balls on the ground, and we were trying to cut down on the sack total. That’s a big one for us, so it’s a point of emphasis this week to make sure we can try to keep our quarterback upright.”

Redshirt junior quarterback Pierce Holley says the offense is improving on the communication when they are on the field.

Pierce Holley, a redshirt junior quaterback, practice throwing footballs before team drills at O‘Brien Field Wednesday Evening. (Tyriq Johnson)

“We’re making sure that me and the [offensive] linemen are on the same page for protection,” Holley said. “We’re also focusing on me and all the receivers being on the same page.”

Junior wide receiver Eli Mirza says practices since the win against the Redbirds have been going well.

“We’re really locked in even after a win at home,” Mirza said. “We still have a mindset of winning another game at home on Saturday.”

Eli Mirza, a junior wide receiver, runs off the field for a water break at O‘Brien Field Wednesday Evening. (Tyriq Johnson)

Wilkerson also shared the most crucial factors for his team to win this game.

“Offensively, you know the challenge is to again clean up the pass protection and run the football just a little more efficiently,” Wilkerson said. “Those two things go hand in hand a little bit because the sack yardage comes off, you’re running the offense, and it looks like we haven’t been able to run the football as efficiently because we got sacked so many times. Those are the two big points of emphasis for us this week. We got to tackle on defense and then [we] certainly want to clean up the line of scrimmage with our offensive line and run the football a little more efficiently and try to cut down on the sacks.”

Mirza thinks the offense is improving on third-down conversions throughout practices, so the team will be ready to go on Saturday.

Junior linebacker Elijawah Tolbert thinks the team is improving on finishing games.

Elijawah Tolbert, a junior linebacker, runs toward the ball during a defense drill at O‘Brien Field Wednesday Evening. (Tyriq Johnson)

“You can play good in the first three quarters, but it comes down to the fourth quarter and what you do,” Tolbert said. “We practice the situations over and over and we try to stay conscious about it.”

Junior defensive back Nick Coates says the team chemistry is better than it was last season.

Nick Coates, a junior defensive back, prepares to tackle a teammate during a drill at O‘Brien Field Wednesday Evening. (Tyriq Johnson)

“You can definitely tell a difference this year compared to last year,” Coates said. “I would say that we’re definitely closer with each other.”

Wilkerson shared his feelings about playing at home for back-to-back weeks.

“It’s great to play at home,” Wilkerson said. “The administration and support staff had done such a phenomenal job with some of the game day atmosphere stuff…It was a very festive atmosphere. It was a great crowd…It was very easy to get into the game and it’s contagious…It’s family weekend, so we are expecting a great crowd, and hopefully, some people that haven’t seen Panther football before will be excited about the product that we’re putting on the field. The home crowd: it means the world to the guys and it’s contagious in terms of the energy and enthusiasm.”

Redshirt freshman MJ Flowers thinks the team should “keep their foot on the pedal.”

“Coming into this week after the big win, we just really need to keep our foot on the pedal,” Flowers said. “We can’t get satisfied. We’re going to come back and keep the intensity high.”

Eastern will face McNeese State University at O’Brien Field on Saturday at 2 p.m.

The Sports Staff can be reached at 581-2812 or at [email protected].

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About the Contributors
Zaria Flippin
Zaria Flippin, Sports Editor
Zaria Flippin is a junior sports media relations major. This is her first year at The News.
Duane Carter
Duane Carter, Sports Reporter
Duane Carter is a junior sports media relations major. This is his first year at The News.

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