Southeast is in a mending mode after a 31-16 loss to EIU.
Considering how physical Saturday's game was, Southeast Missouri State coach Tony Samuel figures the Redhawks' open date comes at exactly the right time.
The Redhawks and two-time defending Ohio Valley Conference champion Eastern Illinois waged a hard-hitting affair that saw the Panthers pull out a 31-16 win.
"We're pretty sore," Samuel said during his weekly media briefing Monday. "No real big injuries, but our kids played a very physical game."
And it was one the Redhawks appeared to have a chance to win until the late going, as they led 16-14 in the third quarter before the Panthers took control.
"I thought we played extremely hard. We had our chances to win the football game," Samuel said. "Eastern Illinois is a very good football team, but I thought we competed well with them."
Southeast is off Saturday, then the Redhawks hit the road to play Eastern Kentucky on Oct. 13.
Eastern Kentucky and Eastern Illinois lead the OVC with 2-0 conference records. Those squads square off Saturday in Charleston, Ill.
Southeast, 2-3 overall, has dropped its first two league games, but Samuel was encouraged by Saturday's performance.
"I'm looking forward to the team that showed up against Eastern Illinois showing up the rest of the way," Samuel said. "If we continue to play like that, I think good things will happen."
Samuel said this week's open date will also allow some of the Redhawks' previously injured players more time to heal and perhaps return for Eastern Kentucky.
Among them is quarterback Houston Lillard, who missed the Eastern Illinois game with two cracked ribs suffered early during a Sept. 22 loss at Samford.
On a team that has struggled with its passing, Lillard had by far Southeast's top passing performance of the season against Indiana State on Sept. 15.
Lillard completed 13-of-18 for 159 yards in his most extensive action of the season. His 68.8 completion percentage for the year ranks first among OVC quarterbacks who have thrown at least 20 passes.
Samuel said it was too early to speculate whether Lillard would be ready to play against Eastern Kentucky.
"We just have to see," Samuel said.
Lillard and fellow junior college transfer Victor Anderson have split time at quarterback most of the season.
With Lillard out against Eastern Illinois and Anderson continuing to struggle with his passing, Southeast turned to walk-on redshirt freshman Steve Callanan, who had not attempted a pass on the collegiate level.
Callanan completed his first three attempts but wound up 7-of-18 for 60 yards with an interception that went off the hands of a Southeast receiver.
"I thought Callanan gave us some good sparks in some cases," Samuel said.
Anderson was 0-for-7 with an interception against Eastern Illinois. He was victimized by a couple drops and the interception bounced off the hands of a receiver.
Anderson leads OVC quarterbacks in rushing with 262 yards, but his 34-percent completion mark is by far the lowest among league signal callers who have attempted more than a few passes.
Samuel said he has not given up on Anderson becoming an effective passer.
Southeast ranks 111th among 116 Division I-AA squads in passing offense (95.4 yards per game) and 113th in passing efficiency.
Samuel said the quarterback position is "still a work in progress."
As for the chance true freshman Jared Van Slyke -- whose redshirt was burned when he came in for a few plays at Samford after Anderson cramped up -- will see more action in the future, Samuel said that remains a possibility.
"We just have to see how things go," Samuel said. "That's one of the things [quarterback] we'll look at this week, see if we can get some separation."
Casper leads tacklers
Senior linebacker Adam Casper's 20-tackle outing against Eastern Illinois has vaulted him into the OVC lead in that department.
Casper's average of 11.4 tackles per game is tied for seventh nationally. He has 57 total tackles.
"He had a great night," Samuel said.
Junior tailback Timmy Holloman, who has had four straight 100-yard rushing games, is No. 2 in the OVC and No. 8 nationally with an average of 131 yards per contest. He has 655 yards this season.
Also ranking high nationally is sophomore Doug Spada, who is seventh in field goals per game and 12th in punting.
Spada has made 9-of-10 field goals and is averaging 42.4 yards per punt, which is third in the OVC.
Sophomore linebacker Jared Goodson, who had been leading Southeast in tackles before Saturday, is still sixth in the OVC and 38th nationally with 47 tackles.
Southeast ranks seventh nationally in net punting and 16th in rushing offense.