Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Defense sets tone for turnaround

Furman coach Clay Hendrix is dunked with water after recording his first
 win as head coach Saturday at Colgate. Photo courtesy of Furman.
Furman's defense quickly atoned for prior struggles while also setting the tone for last Saturday's 45-14 win at Colgate.
In starting the season 0-3, the Paladins found themselves trailing from the beginning each week. Each of those first three opponents had touchdowns on opening drives, all of which lasted at least 10 plays and at least 69 yards.
But on Saturday, Colgate took the ball first and went three-and-out. That was just a sign of things to come. None of the Raiders' first seven drives lasted more than four plays or went longer than 37 yards. Those seven drives ended on three punts, three fumble recoveries by Furman and a turnover on downs.
That initial spark by the defense carried over to the offense as the Paladins scored touchdowns off all three of those turnovers. Furman's average starting field position in the first half was its own 47-yard line. By the time Colgate put together its first sustained drive, it trailed 38-0 late in the second quarter.
"Our defense did a phenomenal job of getting us the ball in really good positions to move it and score," Furman coach Clay Hendrix said. "(Forcing turnovers) was something we'd not done a good job of to this point, but it's something that we've emphasized.
"It makes it easier to play offense when you can do that."
First-quarter goose egg
Furman held an opponent scoreless in the first quarter Saturday for the first time since last Oct. 15 at ETSU. Just like at Colgate, the Paladins led 21-0 after one quarter that day before going on to a 52-7 win.
Ellis shines in first start
Thanks to multiple injures at the linebacker position, true freshman Reynard Ellis made his first collegiate start and played like a veteran. After Ellis' 16-tackle performance (which included a sack), he was named honorable mention STATS FCS National Freshman of the Week. Ellis' tackle total was one shy of the highest in the FCS last week.
Stacking sacks
Ellis was one of five different Furman defenders with sacks Saturday. It was the first time the Paladins had five sacks in a game since Aug. 30, 2014 against Gardner-Webb.
After a 12-sack season last year - and eight sacks in 2015 - Furman has 11 sacks thus far this season.
In addition to Ellis, sophomore Alec Hanff and true freshman Parker Stokes recorded their first collegiate sacks Saturday.
Home run balls
Part of the appeal of Furman's new offense is the ability for a receiver to break open on a deep throw. In the Colgate game, it happened for the third week in a row. After 77- and 71-yard touchdown bombs over the previous two weeks, quarterback P.J. Blazejowski hit a wide-open Cam Burnette on a 61-yard touchdown pass to open the scoring Saturday.
Blazejowski leads the FCS in yards per pass attempt at 10.72.
Over the previous three seasons combined, Furman had just one offensive play longer than 65 yards.

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