High-powered Panthers a key early-season test for Saluki Football

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    Sep 4, 2013

    By Tom Weber

    CARBONDALE, Ill. - In what is shaping up to be a key early-season test for the Saluki Football team, No. 14-ranked Eastern Illinois brings its high-powered offense to Carbondale on Saturday night.

    1. For the second-straight week, the Salukis will face a superb passing attack. Eastern Illinois senior quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo threw for 3,823 yards and 31 touchdowns last year, and he picked up where he left off with 361 yards and three TDs in an eye-opening 40-19 win over San Diego State last week.

    2. Eastern's fast-break offense ran 82 plays at SDSU last week, after averaging a staggering 84 plays a year ago. By comparison, the Salukis ran 67 plays in a high-scoring game at Illinois. The Panthers' no-huddle spread attack is often compared to the system Oregon ran under offensive guru Chip Kelly. The Ducks "only" averaged 81 plays under Kelly last year, though.

    3. Garoppolo's favorite target is slot receiver Erik Lora, who made 136 catches last year and 10 against the Aztecs a week ago. In watching film of Lora, he does an amazing job of adjusting to the ball once it's in the air. He is also elusive after the catch. He's often matched up in coverage against a safety, and that is a mismatch. It will be interesting to see how SIU defends Lora.

    4. If teams become preoccupied with stopping Eastern's passing game, the Panthers will keep them honest with an efficient ground game. They ran the ball 36 times and averaged nearly five yards per carry at San Diego State.

    5. One way to slow down Eastern's offense is for your own offense to control the ball for long stretches. Last year, the Salukis had 22 possessions in their 49-28 loss at EIU. Only one drive lasted longer than three minutes.

    6. Possession time is a deceptive statistic in a game versus Eastern Illinois, however. San Diego State had the ball for 38 of the 60 minutes against EIU and still lost by three touchdowns. Long drives followed by turnovers are no good. The Salukis committed six turnovers at Eastern last year, leading to their downfall.



    7. In the Saluki backfield, the loss of running back Mika'il McCall means more carries Saturday for Ken Malcome, Tay Willis, and if healthy, Malcolm Agnew. This is a terrific opportunity for Malcome, the Georgia transfer, to showcase his skills. Remember that he averaged 4.5 yards per carry for the Bulldogs in spot duty during two seasons in Athens. SIU will find out if he's capable of being a feature back. It's hard to envision the 165-pound Willis becoming a workhorse, but he figures to be a nice change-of-pace to the 220-pound Malcome. Agnew remains the wildcard.

    8. In his press conference on Monday, head coach Dale Lennon said he was generally pleased with the performance of the offensive line at Illinois. The pass protection kept Kory Faulkner upright, and there were some creases in the running game. Now, it's up to the running backs to make plays.

    9. Although none of the true freshmen played in the opener at Illinois, it wouldn't be a surprise if a redshirt gets pulled at some point this season, due to injuries or performance.

    10. It should be a beautiful night for football in southern Illinois on Saturday with temperatures in the 80s. With two very good teams playing a game with much at stake, you don't want to miss it. Buy your tickets at SIUSalukis.com or call 877-SALUKIS.