The Saluki football team isn’t exactly sure what they will see out of Eastern Illinois University’s offense during Thursday’s season opener, but whatever happens will be quick.
Coach Dale Lennon said he expects a fast-paced game out of the Panthers, including a no-huddle offense under new coach Dino Babers.
Babers worked with the wide receivers and special teams during his four-year tenure at Baylor. Lennon and his staff have no tape to scout how the EIU team plays because this is the season’s first game, but Lennon said they have studied some film of last season’s Baylor squad.
Luckily for the Salukis, Eastern doesn’t have a player to contend with like Robert Griffin III, Baylor’s Heisman trophy winner last season.
However, the Salukis plan to sport an up-tempo offense of their own this season.
Offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer and his staff travelled to Norman, Okla., during the summer to try and create a faster-paced offense like the University of Oklahoma’s.
Lennon said the combination of both teams working quickly could make for a high-scoring game.
“Playing a team with the up-tempo type offense, you have to be ready for a lot of points to be potentially scored against us fast,” he said. “You can have a 14- or 20- point lead, but that really isn’t that safe of a lead. At the same time, when a team is very high-tempo, you have a chance to get the ball back to your offense.”
The Salukis took advantage of their chances against EIU last season and recorded three interceptions en route to a 45-28 home victory Nov. 12. The win was quarterback Kory Faulkner’s first since he obtained the starting nod Oct. 8.
This season, Lennon said he is confident the junior is ready to take the reins.
“Kory was thrown into a tough situation (last year),” Lennon said. “He was thrown into some tough matchups, and that should help him. He should have a better understanding of the game plans, and hopefully that will translate to the ability to make more plays.”
Faulkner said he is excited and ready for a new season after a full offseason as the lead man.
Sophomore tight end MyCole Pruitt will likely be the name highlighted on Eastern’s offensive scouting report. Pruitt was a force on the field last season in his first year of action. Though the defense might very well key on him Thursday, Pruitt said the Saluki passing game will be ready to adjust.
“I think I will see a lot of double-teams, but my teammates will step up and make plays when it happens,” Pruitt said. “When I get my chance, I’m going to make the plays that I’m able to make as well.”
Lennon said he feels comfortable with the entire receiving core.
“Last year (sophomore) LaSteven McKinney hadn’t taken a snap at the receiver position. Now he’s at a point where he’s very comfortable,” Lennon said. “(Senior) David Lewis … is finally at the point that we’ve been hoping he’d be. And (junior) John Lantz is just that consistent type of player. I think the overall experience level of our receiving corps should allow us to be a little bigger factor than we were in the past.”
Lennon said he also expects senior running backs Steven Strother and Mulku Kalokoh to factor into the passing game.
He said he is confident heading into the season opener, even though it is on the road.
“You always like to have a home game, but that first game just to have your team with you on the road in a closed environment, I like that part,” he said. “Sometimes there are so many distractions around that first game of the year that you would like to have your players more isolated. I don’t mind the road game for the first game of the year.”
Lennon has a 13-2 record in season openers as a head coach.
Thursday’s kick-off is scheduled for 6:30 p.m.