After opening the season 2-0 for the first time since 2003, the Huskies will put their 21-game home winning streak on the line against the Eastern Illinois Panthers (3-0). Playing out of the Ohio Valley Conference in the Football Championship Subdivision, the Panthers are ranked No. 8 in the Sports Network poll and No. 10 in the FCS Coaches poll. Sports reporter Frank Gogola will break down the key players for the Panthers.
Quarterback: Jimmy Garoppolo
Senior quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is the unquestione leaders of the Panthers’ offense. The 6-foot-3, 222-pound quarterback has been the driving force behind an offense that has averaged 45.7 points per game. He is more of a pocket-passer quarterback and has gone 91-of-143 for 1,281 yards for an average of 427 passing yards per game. He has also tossed 14 touchdown passes compared to one interception while leading EIU to a 3-0 record. In their last game against the Illinois State Redbirds (0-2), he threw for 480 yards and a school-record seven touchdowns.
Running Back: Taylor Duncan
In a pass-heavy offense, redshirt junior running back Taylor Duncan has emerged as the Panthers’ biggest asset in the run game. The 6-foot-3, 224-pound running back is in his second season as a running back for the Panthers after appearing as a backup quarterback during his redshirt freshman year. Last season he was the team’s second leading rusher with 466 yards and eight touchdowns. Through three games he has averaged 88.3 rushing yards per game and has scored three of the team’s four rushing touchdowns.
Wide Receiver: Erik Lora
Redshirt wide receiver Erik Lora has been Garoppolo’s favorite target this season. The 5-foot-11, 190-pound wide receiver was named an FCS preseason All-American and FCS preseason Offensive Player of the Year. He has recorded a team-high 31 receptions this season and has caught at least 10 passes in each of EIU’s three games this season. Known for his speed and ability to make plays after the catch, he has a team-high 409 receiving yards for a team-best six touchdown receptions, while the rest of the team have eight touchdowns receptions combined.
Offensive Line: Dominic Pagliara
Redshirt senior offensive lineman Dominic Pagliara will anchor the Panthers’ offensive line for yet another season. The 6-foot-6, 307-pound left tackle played in all 11 games during his redshirt freshman season, started all 11 games at left tackle in his redshirt sophomore season, and started all 12 games at left tackle last season. He was named a preseason All-American and will protect Garoppolo’s blind side for another season. He will need to step up with both his run- and pass-blocking and will have the task of trying to limit the number of sacks the Huskies record.
Defensive Line: Pat Wertz
Sixth-year defensive lineman Pat Wertz is a man among boys on the Panthers’ defensive line. The 6-foot-4, 254-pound defensive end recorded 53 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, three sacks, three forced fumbles and one blocked kick last season. Named to the preseason All-Ohio Valley Conference first team, he has 13 tackles, including a team-high 5.5 tackles for loss, and a team-leading 3.5 sacks on the season. He has also record one pass break-up, one quarterback hurry and one forced fumble. The Huskies may need to double team him or use chip blocks to slow him down.
Linebacker: Robert Haynes
Playing the middle linebacker position, junior linebacker Robert Haynes has been a bonafide tackler for the Panthers. The 6-foot, 234-pound middle linebacker started 11 games last season and led the team with 101 tackles. He is tied for the team lead with 25 tackles in three games this season and has also recorded three tackles for a loss and one pass breakup on the season. The Huskies will need to know where he is lined up on every play and will need to be careful when going across the middle of the field.
Secondary: Jourdan Wickliffe
Junior defensive back Jourdan Wickliffe can do a little bit of everything for the Panthers’ defense. The 6-foot-1, 195-pound defensive back is in his first full season as a safety after beginning last season as a reserve wide receiver before switching to defense a quarter of the way through the season. He is tied for the team lead with 25 tackles, including one tackle for loss. Showing his versatility, he has also forced three fumbles, recovered one fumble, recorded one interception and broken up three passes
Special Teams: Shepard Little
In addition to his backup running back duties, redshirt sophomore running back Shepard Little has excelled in the special teams game. The 5-foot-10, 198-pounder is seeing the first action of his career after redshirting his freshman season and not playing in any games last season. He has been the Panthers’ second leading rusher this season but has also taken care of punt return and kick return duties. He has returned four kickoffs for 86 yards and three punt returns for 86 yards and one touchdown, the Panthers’ lone special teams’ touchdown this season.