CHARLESTON -- Eastern Illinois’ offense saw a considerable improvement against Indiana State on Saturday.
Quarterback Johnathan Brantley seemed to take control of the starting quarterback job with 443 yards passing, the eighth-most in a single game in EIU history, on 37-of-49 passing and four touchdowns.
EIU had two receivers - Alexander Hollins and Aaron Gooch - with 10 receptions each for 167 yards and three touchdowns and 110 yards, respectively.
The Panthers scored 41 points, their highest point total since scoring 56 against Austin Peay on Sept. 24, 2016, and racked up 501 yards of total offense.
But for as good as the EIU’s offense was, the Panthers defense was worse. Indiana State rushed for 326 yards as a team (236 yards by Ja’Quan Keys) and finished with 535 yards of total offense.
The Sycamores finished with 55 points, their most since scoring 56 against Missouri State in 2015, as Indiana State picked up its first win over an NCAA Division I opponent since Oct. 22, 2016, with a 55-41 win over the Panthers on Saturday at O’Brien Stadium.
EIU coach Kim Dameron said that was as bad as a defensive performance that he’s had since he’s been the head coach at EIU in the last five seasons.
“It felt like we couldn’t do anything right defensively. We were pitiful tackling and had guys getting out of gaps at times. I just thought our tackling was just really bad,” Dameron said. “We just missed way too many tackles. We called some things right into some of the run plays and they hit and bounced out and whatever. Take nothing away from them, they just lined up and physically, up front they are big and strong just like every team in that league, we just couldn’t physically get them down. It was very disappointing.”
Indiana State controlled the line of scrimmage. Keys was consistently able to reach the second level throughout the game, bypassing the line before being stopped by a defensive back. Keys averaged 6.8 yards per carry and had touchdown runs of 3, 4, 20 and 43 in the game. The Sycamores rushed for 5.6 yards per carry.
Safety Raymond Crittenden led EIU with 11 tackles, seven solo, and cornerback Mark Williams had 10 tackles, seven solo.
“We didn’t have anybody getting off the block and when we did have someone in the wrong gap or something like that, it was in the words of someone I used to work for, it was running water,” Dameron said. “The ball is going to go like water where the hole is and there were several holes and then when he got to the second level, we didn’t do a good job of corralling (Keys). They could’ve thrown for as many yards because didn’t defend the pass either. It felt like we were out there and they were doing what they wanted to do.”
EIU runs a 4-2-5 defense but after the last two weeks in blowout losses to two Missouri Valley Football Conference schools (Illinois State and Indiana State), Dameron may change up the defense.
“We may have to completely change everything we do defensively,” Dameron said. “We may have to go to, I don’t know. We are going to have to look at being able to defend the run better. The frustrating thing is this is the way we’ve defended the run for quite some time and the fact that they are running those plays into this defense, I know it works because we’ve been pretty decent around here and have hung our hat on being a defensive team.
“For whatever, these first three games have been horrendous.”
EIU started off on the right foot when Brantley hit Hollins on a fade for a 15-yard touchdown but ISU marched 74 yards in only four plays and scored on Keys’ 3-yard run.
Brantley came back with a 17-yard touchdown pass to Hollins but a nine-play, 75-yard drive ended with a Christian Covington 2-yard run.
Matt Reyna returned the ensuing kickoff 96 yards to put EIU up 20-14 when ISU answered with a 22-yard field goal by Jerry Nunez.
EIU couldn’t answer and the Sycamore took the lead on a Keys 4-yard run in the second quarter. Then after a Panther fumble later in the quarter, Keys went right up the middle for 20 yards for a score and a 31-20 halftime lead.
The Panthers made it a four-point game when Brantley hit Hollins in the middle of the field. The reversed field and outran a few defenders for a 73-yard score.
Dameron didn’t say Brantley won the starting job but he did feel comfortable with Brantley in there. He threw 49 passes compared to five for Harry Woodbery.
“I thought he did a good job. He scored quite a few points in the first quarter and I thought he was in command of the offense,” Dameron said. “I just felt better with Johnathan back there and he did some good things. No interceptions. He did pretty good.”
After a good kickoff return by Dakota Caton, ISU went 31 yards in nine plays and scored on Ryan Boyle’s 3-yard run. A 6-yard touchdown run by Covington at the end of the third quarter put the game out of reach.
Teriq Phillips did catch a 6-yard touchdown passes and Darshon McCullough did score on a 3-yard run for EIU, but Indiana State matched that in the fourth quarter with a 43-yard run by Keys and a 25-yard field goal by Nunez for the 55-41 victory.