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Jeff Kolpack, Published September 06 2013

Eastern Illinois looks much improved to MVFC teams

FARGO – Perhaps the biggest surprise with the eight FCS-over-FBS victories in the opening week of the season was Eastern Illinois. The Panthers ended last season giving up 580 total yards in a 58-10 first-round playoff loss at South Dakota State.

It got to the point where SDSU running back Zach Zenner could practically name his gain. As it was, he ended with 295 yards rushing despite not playing a good chunk of the second half.

Something must have happened to EIU since the end of last season. The Panthers stunned FBS San Diego State 40-19 last weekend at Qualcomm Stadium in a loss that left the Aztecs humiliated.

“They’ve gotten better on defense,” Southern Illinois head coach Dale Lennon said of EIU.

SIU gets the first FCS shot at Eastern Illinois in the Salukis’ home opener today. Southern got burned plenty last year in EIU’s 49-28 victory, and Lennon said the Panthers are even better at executing their high-paced offense.

“They love scoring on the big play, and they love scoring fast,” Lennon said.

Waiting in the wings is Illinois State, which is idle this week but travels to Eastern Illinois in two weeks. Like SIU in a 42-34 loss at Illinois, Illinois State came up short in its FBS game 51-28 at Ball State (Ind.).

ISU head coach Brock Spack said he believes Eastern Illinois is a more physical team than the one that faced the Jackrabbits.

“I think South Dakota State may have showed them a few things at the FCS level on how to be a top-flight program,” Spack said.

Hampton in giving mood at Western Illinois

Western Illinois gave Bob Nielson a nice gift in his debut as the Leathernecks’ head coach. Several nice gifts, in fact, in the form of nine turnovers.

Western Illinois picked off six passes and recovered three fumbles over undermanned Hampton in a 42-9 win. Three of the turnovers went the other way for touchdowns.

“That was a pretty unique game,” said Nielson, who came to Western from Minnesota-Duluth. “I’ve been through a lot of them, and I can honestly say I’m not sure I’ve ever been a part of nine turnovers.”

On the flipside, Nielson said Hampton was “quite frankly struggling at quarterback.”

Etc. etc. etc.

E Missouri State has played 28 games against FBS teams since moving to Division I in 1982, but its game at Iowa today marks the first one against a Big Ten Conference foe.

E The top two rushing performances in the country last week in either FBS or FCS were from the Missouri Valley. Youngstown State’s Adaris Bellamy had 203 yards against Dayton and Northern Iowa’s David Johnson had 199 at Iowa State.

E South Dakota had its struggles on defense last year, which made last week’s 10-7 win against

UC-Davis all the more encouraging for second-year head coach Joe Glenn.

“From where we ended up last year, drastic change,” Glenn said. “Thankfully.”

Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be reached at (701) 241-5546. Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia