Indiana looking for improvement against Eastern Illinois
Indiana defensive coordinator Kane Wommack knows all about Eastern Illinois football.
He remembers making the FCS playoffs during his two-year stint as the Panthers defensive coordinator, and he quickly recalls two former EIU quarterbacks who struck it rich in the NFL: Tony Romo and Jimmy Garoppolo. He can even recite, without hesitation, some future NFL coaches who graduated from Eastern Illinois: Mike Shanahan, Sean Payton, Brad Childress and the late Mike Heimerdinger.
But as the 32-year-old Wommack reminisced about his tenure in Charleston, Illinois, he’s also enjoyed spending the week talking smack with some old coaching friends.
“Kind of neat to go do that,” Wommack said as the Hoosiers prepared for Saturday’s home opener. “Starting to text back with some of the guys, still got a group text going with some of those EIU guys and the trash talking has already begun so I’ll have to have my game ready for them.”
He is more concerned with getting the Hoosiers defense righted after 25 missing tackles in last week’s season-opening victory over Ball State, especially before No. 5 Ohio State comes to town next week.
That is where the danger lurks this week — overlooking the smaller school sandwiched between those two games.
Indiana’s record is littered with reminders of the possibilities. Since 2005, the Hoosiers have endured losses to Bowling Green, North Texas, Central Michigan, Southern Illinois and three times to Ball State. Coach Tom Allen can cite other examples throughout the college football landscape too: Appalachian State won at Michigan in 2007, Ohio won at Penn State and just last week Tennessee lost at home to Georgia State.
Lately, though, it seems the Hoosiers (1-0) have gotten the message. They’ve won 15 of their last 16 non-conference games .
This week, Eastern Illinois (0-1) has its own insider — first-year coach Adam Cushing, who’s been taking notes on the Hoosiers ever since he joined Pat Fitzgerald’s staff at Northwestern in 2004.
“It’s not the first time that a lot of the guys on staff myself included, have dealt with this scheme,” Cushing said. “I’ve got some old notes but it’s like anything they’re going to do (are) things that fit the skill set of the guys they have. So I think it’s going to help us have a baseline for game-planning.”
Wommack, meanwhile, understands the program, the ability to get his team focused and to see enough improvement to win bragging rights.
“For our guys, it really doesn’t matter, especially early in the season, who you’re playing and who you’re going up against,” Wommack said. “It’s about improving yourself and getting better every day, which is what I think we’re really excited to get moving forward on.”
For the second straight week, Cushing has not announced his starting quarterback. Instead, he’ll let senior Jonathan Brantley and redshirt junior Harry Woodberry duel in practice. Last week, Brantley started and went 13 of 25 with 103 yards and one touchdown while Woodberry was 13 of 22 with 121 yards and one interception in a 24-10 loss to Chattanooga.
“This competition is not over and I’ve been continuing to say that the competition is not over,” Cushing said. “It’s going to be week to week. So the guy that goes out and does the best is probably going to get the nod. This is our plan.”
Indiana quarterback Michael Penix Jr. was named the Big Ten’s freshman of the week after throwing for 326 yards and one touchdown and running for 67 yards in his starting debut. This week, Allen and the Hoosiers expect to see more consistency from the redshirt freshman.
“There were a lot of errors that we had, mainly ball security,” Penix said. “Coach stressed that a lot. We didn’t have any fumbles, we had turnovers. But ball security he stressed and a lot of small errors most people wouldn’t notice.”
While this will be the first meeting between the schools, and Eastern Illinois is familiar with Big Ten play. They are 0-8 all-time against the conference with their most recent loss coming in 2015 to Northwestern. Indiana is 2-0 all-time against the Ohio Valley Conference, with victories over Eastern Kentucky and Murray State.
The Hoosiers will welcome back players from the 1979 team for the 40th anniversary of their Holiday Bowl victory — the first postseason win in school history. ESPN analyst Lee Corso coached the team, which was led by quarterback Tim Clifford.