CHARLESTON — For much of the season, it was Eastern Illinois' offense that was the bright spot of the team. At one point the Panthers had four straight weeks where they scored 40 or more points.
That stretch came to a halt when Jacksonville State held the Panthers to 22 points on Oct. 13. Since then, the Panthers haven't scored more than 24 points in their next two games. The 24 points came in an overtime win against UT Martin on Oct. 20.
Even after that four-game stretch, the Panthers still have the fourth-highest scoring offense in the Ohio Valley Conference, averaging 30.3 points per game. They are also fourth in the conference with 445.0 yards per game. The Panthers are coming off an open week and in EIU's last game, the Panthers had 514 yards in the loss to Eastern Kentucky.
In order to get back to their high-scoring ways, the Panthers (2-7, 2-4 OVC) have to be more consistent.
"The biggest thing is we have to be more consistent in what we do. Not have illegal procedure penalties or holding penalties when we have big plays. When we get to the 1-yard line, we can't snap the ball over the running back's head," EIU coach Kim Dameron said. "A lot of the stuff has been self-inflicted and things where we just have to execute better."
The Panthers hope to find their consistency on offense when they host Austin Peay at 1 p.m. Saturday at O'Brien Field. The team will honor 14 members of its senior class. It's the first full recruiting class for Dameron.
When Austin Peay coach Will Healy looks at EIU's offense, he doesn't necessarily see a struggling offense. He sees players who can make some explosive plays. He also knows EIU's offense will be much different than the one his team has faced the last couple of weeks.
"I know that (Alexander Hollins) is an unbelievable wide receiver and (Aaron Gooch) has made plays and Isaiah Johnson is a good running back," Healy said. "I've been around Kim long enough to know that those kids will be well coached and prepared. They are dynamic and I've seen them put points up. They are using tempo to their advantage and spread the field. We had two run teams the last two weeks and now a team that spreads it out."
Hollins is second in the FCS with 13 receiving touchdowns, which is tied for the eighth-most in OVC single-season history. Hollins is sixth in FCS with 71 receptions and ninth with 911 yards. Gooch has 52 receptions on the season. Johnson rushed for 128 yards and two touchdowns against EKU and became the 29th player in EIU history to surpass 1,000 yards for his career.
Austin Peay's defense has been stout this year. In the last two weeks, the Governors (4-5, 2-4 OVC) have held opponents to only 27 combined points. Austin Peay is second in the OVC with 29.1 points allowed per game and third in the OVC with 388.6 yards allowed a game.
"When you look at them, the first thing that pops up is they are quick and athletic up front. They have a couple of good tackles and Jaison Williams is a good layer. The linebacker core with Gunnar Scholato, he's a heck of a player," Dameron said. "For the most part, they line up and cover you and they are good space tacklers. It will be a challenge offensively."
Austin Peay's offense is right behind EIU's, averaging 30.1 points per game, the fifth-most in the conference, and 420.6 yards per game offensively. The Governors rushing attack is the focal point of their offense with the option attack. Austin Peay is averaging 241.1 yards per game. Kentel Williams leads Austin Peay with 684 yards rushing and quarterback Jeremiah Oatsvall follows with 435 yards rushing. Oatsvall has also passed for 1,250 yards and 14 touchdowns.
"As a defensively coach, everything that you are taught with the run game starts with option football. They do a lot of motion and shifting and option reads and try to overpopulate an area with motions and with their quarterback, you have to defend all 11 guys," Dameron said. "It's a total approach to stopping the run. Our work is cut out for us. They are good at quarterback, running back and at receiver even though they don't throw for a ton of yards."
The thing that has hurt the Governors the most this season is the Governors. Austin Peay averages 78.7 penalty yards a game and have drawn a league-high 76 penalties. The Governors have also thrown nine interceptions and lost six fumbles.
"It's a recipe for disaster. We are the most penalized team in the league. It's a lack of discipline and that's on me and I have to fix that to give ourselves a chance to win on the road," Healy said.