Not much time to go before the game of marginal importance, so I figure it's time for me to do this post I do every week about whoever Northwestern is playing in football. Now that we don't have to worry about Dan Persa's Achilles tendon because he cloned himself and the clone was smaller and of a different race and slightly worse at quarterback and this metaphor is kind of pointless, we can focus wholeheartedly on Northwestern's FCS opponent, your favorite Ohio Valley Conference opponent, the Eastern Illinois Panthers. Apologies to any Sippin' on Purple readers whose favorite OVC team is Southeast Missouri State.
Thus far: EIU has only played one game on the year, a 33-26 victory over Illinois State. There is a highlight video of the game that autoplays on the ESPN team page, but if you'd rather see a hastily made video featuring a clip of someone parachuting into the game, clips of real live EIU fans, and the team celebrating vehemently with a rivalry trophy that was apparently introduced last year, this is the video for you:
Unfortunately, it doesn't include a clip of however EIU got hit for a safety, which I'd like to know.
However, the fact that they just eked out a win over a team NU beat 37-3 last year only tells some of the story, because this makes them look like a passable team, so, it's important to look at how EIU did last year. If you stopped paying attention to EIU's season last year after they lost 37-7 to Iowa, you'd think they might be an okay FCS team. After all, Iowa was pretty good. However, they lost by the exact same score the next week to Central Arkansas. In 2009, the team was alright, making the postseason where they got crushed 48-7 by Southern Illinois (who in turn had been crushed by Northwestern in 2008), but in 2010, they had a major dropoff. The Panthers lost their first eight games before stringing together two wins under freshman quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who took over three games into the season. They demolished Austin Peay and needed overtime to beat Tennessee State. So, yes, they've won three of their last four going back to last year. But they are distinctly sub-par for a team from the Ohio Valley Conference, so, there's that. They are receiving votes in the FCS polls. Just like us! But different!
Us and them: No history between Northwestern and Eastern Illinois? Really? They're, like, right there. Seems like a match made in non-conference FCS scheduling heaven. I suppose the fact they were Division II for a long time might have something to do with it.
When they got the ball: The aforementioned Garoppolo is EIU's go-to guy. He took over after an 0-3 start last year as a freshman and while it would be nice to say he turned the team around, he really didn't: the Panthers lost their next five games, and Garoppolo threw for nearly as many picks - 13 - as he did touchdowns - 14. However, if his performance against ISU is an indicator, things have changed between his freshman and sophomore years: he threw for 304 yards passing with three touchdowns and no picks. With the graduation of Erik Lora, his favorite target appears to be Lorence Ricks, who had seven catches for 114 yards and a TD last week, and will likely equal his totals of 20 catches for 285 yards pretty quickly.
Running isn't really a big part of EIU's arsenal: they didn't even put up 1,000 yards on the ground as a team last year, averaging only 2.7 yards per carry. And this was with last year's starter Jimmy Potempa, who had a team-high 491 yards rushing, and like everybody else on the team, is named Jimmy, because Eastern Illinois plays in 1956. Now, the running back is redshirt freshman AJ Woodson. Perhaps you're thinking that like Garoppolo, who improved mightily it seems based on his week 1 performance, EIU might also have an improved running game. You'd be wrong. They had 35 carries for 68 yards, 1.8 per carry. You're probably now thinking that they must have given up a lot of sacks. Nope, only two for 15 yards, meaning there is no way to slice them having a good running game.
Now you're probably thinking they don't give up a lot of sacks. This, good sir, is the most wrong thing you've thought yet. Last year, EIU gave up 37 sacks for a whopping -237 yards, and they didn't even have to play against JJ Watt.
When we got the ball: If that recap of a modestly bad offense put the fear of a higher deity in you, breathe easy: their defense is worse. EIU's run defense was astoundingly bad last year, giving up five yards a carry and 212.7 per game. EIU never held an opponent to under 142 yards rushing - that opponent was ISU, against whom Northwestern allowed 92 yards rushing - and allowed over 200 yards rushing in five of 11 games. The statistics are pretty interesting to look at: I've never seen a squad against whom opponents so frequently just abandoned the passing game. even though EIU's opponents completed 64 percent of their passes, they rarely took to the air, only throwing five touchdowns on the year. In a three week stretch, Southeast Missouri, Eastern Kentucky, and Tennessee Tech each completed less than ten passes for under 100 yards. However, they all won by at least two touchdowns, giving their running backs at least 45 carries and putting up an average 265 yards on the ground. It's absurd. Unlike NU, who had issues allowing the run last year, things haven't changed. EIU's game last week was no different, as ISU's backs put up 152 yards on 5.2 yards per carry. I also feel this is the proper place to lament the loss of EIU's leading tackler last year, Nick Nasti, an all-OVC linebacker whose name is Nick Nasti.
Kickin' it: Get familiar with EIU's punter, Scott Weatherford - yes, from the punting Weatherfords! His brother is former Jet Steve.