“That’ll be another Panthers…first down!”
The PA announcer at O’Brien Field on Saturday set the crowd up with the first portion of it as Eastern Illinois moved the chains, and those on the home side finished the sentence. But after 31 first downs by the Panthers against APSU, the crowd had lost its energy — or even their voices — by the time the fourth quarter came.
A final score of 63-7 pretty much tells you how my Saturday went in Charleston, Ill., and if you feel inclined, you can read the full game recap here. But today, the purpose is to give you my insight of the one-sided game.
Here are my five takeaways.
Boone still the starter, but is Macius the answer at quarterback?
Coming into the season, Trey Taylor and Darrien Boone separated themselves as the top two names to lead the offense.
Things have certainly changed, to say the least.
Taylor did not play for the second-straight game, still dealing with an injury. Boone started on Saturday for the Govs, but early in the second quarter, head coach Kirby Cannon made the decision to go with freshman Mickey Macius at quarterback.
It was definitely a surprise to see Macius, the fourth different quarterback used by the Govs in 2014, trot out there. Cannon had mentioned before the season that redshirting him was a possibility with Taylor and Boone leading the way, but with little offense so far this season, the plan was to have Macius prepared if they needed him.
“Mickey has proven over the last few weeks that he has a superior feel for checking plays and getting us out of bad ones,” Cannon said. “Darrien’s not done or anything. I think he’s still our starter; he’s still the guy in the long run that has the most tools to do everything we need to do.”
To compare the two, Boone had just one completion in three attempts for five yards, while Macius was 4-for-11 for 72 yards, leading the drive which ended with the lone touchdown of the evening. In the glimpses I saw Macius throw the ball, he looked sharp. I tweeted out during the game that his slant pattern to Javier Booker over the middle for 35 yards was the best pass APSU has had this season. It was right on the money, hitting the senior receiver in stride. Three plays later, the Govs had a free play due to an offside call, and Macius gave a fellow freshman, Malik Boynton, a chance to make an impressive over the shoulder grab.
It’s a small sample size to look at, certainly. I’m not saying Macius is the “answer” at quarterback, but he’s going to continue improving over the next couple weeks, and we should see more of him. Boone is the type of guy needed to run the offense with a lot of read option sets, though Macius is already showing bright spots in the passing game.
Opening up the playbook
This leads me to my next topic of opening up the playbook.
First, let’s look at the play calling breakdown from Saturday: 47 rushing attempts compared to 14 passes. The stat of 147 rushing yards may sound good, but when you look at the number of times guys like Justin Roberson and Rashaan Coleman touched the ball, it can be misleading.
In the first half, the Govs mixed the play calls up with some pass attempts for Boone and Macius once he entered. But once the third quarter arrived, I was lost for words. The Govs received the ball to begin the second half, and after calling a timeout before snapping the ball, sigh, they ran Roberson three times up the middle and punted. In quarters three and four, APSU ran the ball 27 times compared to just six passes.
Remember, this is being down 35-7 at the half.
The only drive of any significance for the Govs was led by Macius and the passing game, leading to the one-yard touchdown by Roberson. Cannon answered the question of there being any limitations in the playbook for Macius.
“Not really,” he said. “Thirty ACT in high school, and (he’s) just a brilliant kid. He was with us last spring, so he’s fully indoctrinated into the offense. I think, more than anything else, is whether we can protect for him and whether his lack of mobility makes it possible for him to be effective. He’s a passer, he’s a guy who’s going to put you in good plays and get you out of bad ones, but he’s not going to run it.”
I understand what he’s saying here, especially when you look at the offensive line struggles APSU has had. This isn’t the strength of the team like in year’s past, and it hurt on Saturday when center Isaiah Tuiasosopo and guard Tyler Miles went down with injuries in the later stages of the game. The EIU defense held a clear advantage over the Govs on the line, without a doubt, which didn’t give Macius much time to throw.
This is why Boone will continue to be the starter moving forward. He has the ability to escape the pocket unlike Macius, which will happen unless something changes up front.
Mental mistakes continue
I really hope this section doesn’t show up every week.
But unfortunately, I’m talking about mental mistakes again, because they continue to happen in big situations. You may think it’s coming from younger players, but sadly, that’s not the case for the most part.
“Most of our penalties were from older players,” Cannon said. “I can take those from freshmen, who sometimes don’t really know how to play, but when it’s seniors, it’s a level of frustration. They’ve not had personal success, they’ve not had team success, and sometimes when things get bad, then you see some of that.”
One drive in particular that I recall where this was the case was in the second quarter. On third down, APSU recorded its first sack of the season, with freshman Nic Matiere-Bey dropping Jalen Whitlow behind the line of scrimmage. However, as Matiere-Bey celebrated, across the field, a flag was thrown on senior cornerback Buddy Mitchell for a personal foul.
After the Panthers went on to score, another 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct was thrown on Jalen Miller. This one may not have meant a lot, but in the future, these types of frustration penalties are going to be monumental.
Moving forward, schedule doesn’t get easier
Up next for the Govs is a trip to Illinois State for a meeting against the Redbirds, who are coming off a bye week. Prior to that, they defeated EIU by 19 points, so that isn’t pleasant to think about.
But I liked the way Cannon approached the loss on Saturday, saying, “I told them it’s our low point, it’s going to be our low point, and it’s as bad as we can possibly be,” he said. “So, every time from now on, we’ve got to be better. We can’t get faster, we can’t get stronger, we can’t do those things in the next few weeks, but if we can avoid penalties post-snap, we can be a better football team pretty quickly.”
If you’re looking ahead to the next conference match-up, it will be at home on Oct. 4 against Eastern Kentucky, who just so happen to be 4-0 to start the campaign.
Photo by Chris Malone (The All State)