EIU on a roll behind Babers, Garoppolo

Published on NewsOK Modified: December 12, 2013 at 5:20 pm •  Published: December 12, 2013

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) — In Dino Babers' world there is no pretty good. There is only good and everything else.

"Don't even use the PG word," the high-energy head coach at Eastern Illinois said. He laughed, but he wasn't joking.

The second-seeded Panthers (12-1, 8-0 Ohio Valley) are very good. They're getting ready to play Friday in the Football Championship Subdivision quarterfinals against seventh-seeded Towson (11-2, 6-2 Colonial Athletic). EIU's only loss was by four points on the road at Northern Illinois (12-1). And in Jimmy Garoppolo the Panthers have a quarterback who has rewritten EIU and Ohio Valley Conference record books on his way to a likely job in the NFL.

When Babers arrived from Baylor to take over a team that had just gone 2-9, he asked the players a lot of questions.

"You could tell from their answers they were more concerned about individual stats than team goals," Babers said.

Since then, there has been no shortage of stats at EIU. The team leads the OVC in six major offensive categories. Babers said he had to convince players to worry more about wins and losses than anything else.

There were results in 2012 — a conference title, a playoff spot and a 7-5 finish. This fall season was even better.

The Panthers opened at San Diego State, and beat a now bowl-bound FBS team. That game was the first time Babers' mom, Patsy Ann Plummer, saw him work as a head coach in person.

"It's the only time I asked the team for anything," Babers said. "The day before the game I said it would be really cool if my mom, the first game she saw me as a head coach, she saw me win."

And so she did, 40-19.

It started a string of dominant final scores: 57-24, 63-7, 52-14, 70-22.

Even the 43-39 loss to NIU four games into the season now feels a little like a win. Before the Huskies lost last week to Bowling Green, no one outside of Iowa had come as close to beating them.

It's remarkable, Babers said, how focused the team has remained. There hasn't even been much of a close call, a week when the Panthers looked past an opponent.

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