|Furman's Ivan Yates holds up the ball he came down with on a controversial play|
in the Paladins' 34-27 loss to Samford Saturday. Photo courtesy of Furman
How quickly things can change.
All week, it appeared Furman would be playing in windy, wet conditions in its first home game in a month Saturday. But a couple of hours before kickoff, the sun appeared and it turned into a beautiful day at Paladin Stadium.
It got more beautiful for the home fans over the first 20 minutes. Five minutes into the second quarter, the Paladins were poised to build on a 10-0 lead after their second interception of the day set them up at the Samford 26-yard line.
But after long delay and TWO reviews of the same play, the ball inexplicably was awarded back to Samford. The Bulldogs took advantage of the horrific ruling, scoring a touchdown on that drive.
And the next drive.
And the next drive.
The 20-0 spurt over a six-and-a-half minute span stunned Furman. While never being out of the game, the Paladins never seemed to fully recover as 16th-ranked Samford went on to a 34-27 win.
"The one call didn't beat us, but we let it beat us later on and that's on me. We've got to respond better in those situations," Furman coach Clay Hendrix said. "I wish those situations didn't occur. They seem to occur too often sometimes around here, especially with some review stuff. But I'm just disappointed in how we responded.
"Give Samford credit. They played better than we did today and coached better."
On the controversial play, Furman's Ivan Yates drilled Samford's Chandler Smith at the same time a pass arrived and Yates came out of the collision with the ball. Replays clearly indicated this, as well as the fact that Smith never had the ball nor did it ever touch the ground. But after a delay while Smith was checked on by trainers, Samford's offense went back out on the field as if it was a completed pass.
Before a snap took place, officials stopped for a review. After that delay, the ruling was that Yates made the interception. The ball was placed at the 28-yard line, rather than the 26 where Yates landed though. Before a snap could be made, Samford coach Chris Hatcher spoke with two officials on that sideline. After a couple of minutes, two officials spoke with Hendrix on the Furman sideline. Suddenly, the head official went back for another review.
Most of us in the press box assumed they were checking the spot since it was two yards off. But after the lengthiest review of them all, the head official declared that Smith's forward progress was stopped before the ball came loose. But that means that Smith had possession, which never actually happened. All in all, this embarrassing fiasco for the Southern Conference lasted 13 minutes between plays.
"They made the decision (after the first review), then the other side of the field gets a five-minute explanation and then they go back and review again," said Hendrix. "I've never ever seen that. ... I thought it was an interception and the ball was never possessed (by Smith).
"But they played better than we did and coached better than we did. It should've never came down to that. We had plenty of opportunities to take control of the game early and we didn't."
The review crew looked like hypocrites later in the game. Furman trailed 34-20 early in the fourth quarter when Smith made a leaping grab of a pass. The ball was knocked out by Micah Robinson, picked up by Braden Gilby and returned to the Samford 24-yard line. But a review overruled the fumble call on the field claiming that Smith never had possession and it was an incompletion. This one was debatable, but there's no debate that Smith actually had some semblance of a possession this time.
Now, on to the things that Furman could control.
The Paladins (3-2, 1-1) had a great drive to start the game going 73 yards on 14 plays. But a dropped touchdown on first-and-goal was followed by a false start. For the fourth consecutive game, Furman's first points came via settling for a first quarter field goal.
That field goal came after Jace Wilson was stopped for a one-yard gain on third-and-goal from the three on a shotgun draw out of an empty backfield. The Paladins' next field goal try, a 51-yard attempt by Ian Williams that was blocked, came after Wilson threw to Ryan Miller for a one-yard gain on third-and-four. Furman's last field goal came two plays after a false start on third-and-one at the Samford 11.
After that field goal cut the lead to 34-20 early in the fourth quarter, the Paladins' next possession ended on a punt after Dominic Roberto was dropped for a loss of one on a third-and-two shotgun handoff.
The struggles to line up and get necessary yards on third-and-short plays Saturday were especially frustrating against a Samford team not accustomed to stopping the Paladins. Furman ran for 460 yards against Samford in 2019, 248 two seasons ago and 358 last season. But on Saturday, the Bulldogs' new transfer-rich defense under a new defensive coordinator held the Paladins 128 yards rushing on 38 attempts.
Furman finished with 457 yards of total offense, but it took 97 plays to do it. Making his first start since last season for injured starter Tyler Huff (dislocated elbow), Wilson broke the school's single-game record Saturday with 38 completions. His 59 attempts were the second-most in school history. He finished with 329 yards passing, three touchdowns, no interceptions and 38 yards rushing. The completions record isn't the most glorified one though. Saturday marked the 13th time a Furman quarterback completed at least 26 passes in a game and the Paladins fell to 0-13 in those games.
"I thought Jace stepped in and did a good job," Hendrix said. "The dropped passes were big. We just left too many points on the field."
A Furman team that was near the national lead in turnovers forced and turnover margin lost that battle, technically anyway, 3-1. Samford (4-1, 2-0) scored a pair of touchdowns off of its three fumble recoveries, the last of which was pounced on at the Furman eight-yard line. The Bulldogs' touchdown after that fumble pushed the lead to 34-17 in the third quarter.
Furman's defense held Samford leading rusher Jay Stanton to 17 yards on eight carries. He entered Saturday averaging 71.5 yards per game. Unfortunately for the Paladins, they weren't as successful against Stanton's backup. Jaylan Thomas had 104 yards on only five carries, including three touchdowns. All three scores came on seemingly the same play, a simple dive handoff up the middle.
"The big thing that's been killing us on defense is giving up explosive plays," said Furman bandit Luke Clark, who had two of the Paladins' five sacks Saturday. "Three explosive runs from a team that really doesn't want to run the ball shouldn't happen.
"I don't think it's a lack of effort. I think we've just got to practice making sure that we can be where we're supposed to be."
What's becoming a trend now for Furman is that the defense's seemingly only weakness is the offense's biggest weakness. It's big plays - too many given up and not nearly enough gained.
"We're not getting any chunk plays in the run game. They are hard yards we're getting," said Hendrix. "They've (opposing defenses) got eight guys standing up there (in the box) most of the time. ... We've got to find a way to get some of those chunk yards.
"You get 97 plays, you've got to score more points than we did. We tried to mix it up because we knew they were going to crowd the ball in there. ... The three turnovers were just killers."
Furman plays at The Citadel next Saturday at 2 p.m.