By Nathan Hutchinson
Register Sports Editor
There were many reasons for the Colonels’ lackluster offensive performance last week at home against Eastern Illinois.
The biggest, however, was probably the play of the team’s banged up offensive line.
The Colonels allowed a season-high five sacks and finished with a season-low 81 yards rushing on 45 attempts.
“It has its affects,” EKU coach Dean Hood said of the injuries on the offensive line. “But, you fight through it and do the best you can and we are proud of them.”
Prior to the start of the season, the Colonels appeared ready to have the best returning offensive line in the Ohio Valley Conference and one of the best in all of FCS Football.
But injuries and other problems have ravaged the offensive line. Senior center O.J. Enabosi was ruled academically ineligible prior to the season and senior All-American Patrick Ford suffered a season-ending knee injury Sept. 29 at UT-Martin.
Last Saturday, the Colonels lost another starter when Travon Carter left the game in the second half with a wrist injury.
During the loss to Eastern Illinois, EKU used nine different offensive linemen, including three freshmen — Brent Eychmans (starter), Trey Shelton and Josh Minor — and a sophomore — Dustin Crane.
“(Eastern Illinois) took advantage of it,” EKU wide receiver Tyrone Goard said of the team’s injury-riddled offensive line. “They brought blitzes up the middle and it was successful. They kept doing it and (quarterback) T.J. Pryor didn’t have enough time.”
The Colonels had only allowed 12 sacks through the first eight games of the season and hadn’t allowed more than three sacks any game this year.
As the EKU coaching staff has had to reshuffle the offensive line, the team’s potent rushing offense has certainly suffered.
After averaging 232 yards a game rushing through the first four games, the Colonels have averaged only 153 yards on the ground in the past five games. EKU has been held to less than 126 yards rushing in three of its past five games.
All-American Matt Denham still finished with 95 yards on 25 carries, including a 4-yard touchdown run, against Eastern Illinois, but those yards were all hard-earned. The senior has also seen his production slip in recent weeks.
Denham averaged 138 yards a game through the first four games, but has averaged just more than 100 yards a game in the past five games.
EKU has dropped to third in the OVC in rushing offense (187.7) after being ranked among the national FCS leaders earlier in the season.
Injuries have hit the Colonels’ running backs as well.
Denham took a hit from behind against Tennessee Tech and has been dealing with nagging problems for weeks. DeShaun Sands is battling a hand injury and junior Xavier Foster has been limited the past month by various physical difficulties.
Despite his injures, Denham went over the 1,000 yard mark rushing last week agianst Eastern Illinois. He has 1,073 yards on the ground this season on 225 carries, with 10 touchdowns.
The senior is the first Colonel to rush for 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons since C.J. Hudson (2002).
Colonels still ranked
Even after a disappointing 24-7 loss at home last week to Eastern Illinois, the Colonels (6-3, 4-2 OVC) remained ranked in both national FCS polls.
EKU slipped from 18th to 25th in The Sports Network Poll and dropped from 18th to 23rd in the coaches poll.