|Furman coach Clay Hendrix will take the sideline at Paladin Stadium|
Saturday for the first time in 11 years. Photo courtesy of Furman.
Head coach Clay Hendrix returns to the Paladin Stadium sideline Saturday for the first time since Furman defeated Georgia Southern in the 2006 regular season finale. It will be offensive coordinator Drew Cronic's first game back at Furman since 2009 and associate head coach George Quarles returns for the first time since 1990.
While success at home has waned for the Paladins in recent years, Hendrix will be looking to extend his personal Paladin Stadium winning streak to 14 games Saturday. During his final three years as an assistant, Furman's lone home loss was a 14-13 heartbreaker to James Madison in the 2004 FCS playoffs.
A big part of the Paladins' hopes of returning to the glory days that Hendrix is familiar with must be regaining what once was a distinct homefield advantage. From 1981-2011, Paladin Stadium built its "Dungeon" nickname as Furman had only one losing season at home. Since 2012, the Paladins have had four losing seasons at home.
That turnaround could begin Saturday, especially if Furman plays like it did last week in a 24-23 loss at No. 11 Wofford. Despite having the ball for 11 fewer minutes than Wofford, the Paladins had a 383-350 advantage in total yardage. Furman had no turnovers and only two penalties.
Facing one of the best defenses Furman is likely to oppose all season, quarterback P.J. Blazejowski looked confident and comfortable running the new offense. He threw for 224 yards, while the Paladins ran for 159 yards and averaged 4.5 yards per carry.
"(Blazejowski) made a lot of plays for us and he needs to because we certainly put a lot on his shoulders," Hendrix said afterwards. "He took care of the football ... and he provided good leadership for us. I think he will only get better as we move forward."
While it wore down physically in the fourth quarter, Furman's young defense held the Terriers' prolific ground game in check much of the night. Wofford ran for 269 yards and averaged 4.8 yards per carry. While likely still too high for the Furman's defensive coaching staff's tastes, those numbers are a stark difference from recent years.
Last season, Wofford ran for 306 yards and averaged 5.7 yards per carry in its 34-27 win at Furman. In 2016, the Terriers piled up 417 yards rushing and 6.6 yards per carry in their 38-28 win over the Paladins. Overall, the 269-yard rushing effort was Wofford's lowest total in the series since 2009 when the Terriers rushed for 241 in Furman's 58-21 win.
• Elon (0-1) is coming off a 47-13 loss at FBS member Toledo, which went 9-4 last season. After going 2-9 in 2016, the Phoenix have a new head coach in Curt Cignetti. One of those two wins last year was a 27-10 victory at then-No. 8 ranked William and Mary.
Who exactly will be taking the field for Elon Saturday could remain a mystery until the game begins. The Phoenix' two-deep depth chart has more "ors" than a rowing team, including at least one at every skill position. The only given is that a true freshman will be starting at quarterback for Elon. Against Toledo, Davis Cheek was 2-for-10 with an interception and passed for 22 yards, while Jalen Greene was 1-of-3 for 25 yards. Overall, the Rockets outgained the Phoenix 553-175. Toledo passed for 314 yards and rushed for 239, averaging 5.8 yards per carry.
The Phoenix will be going for their fourth consecutive win at Paladin Stadium, all of which came during its short tenure in the Southern Conference. This will be the first SoCon opponent Elon has faced since it bolted for the Colonial Athletic Conference following the 2013 football season.
• There are a few pregame changes taking place beginning Saturday to enhance the overall gameday experience at Furman. From Paladin Athletic Director Mike Buddie:
"We have several new initiatives that you may encounter this fall. Our new tailgating policy will allow anyone over the age of 21 to consume beer and wine on home football Saturdays. Glass and hard liquor are still prohibited, but we are thrilled to offer this new fan experience upgrade. I have great faith that we can execute this new policy without sacrificing the family atmosphere that has always existed at Furman. Parking in the Chapel Lot on campus will now cost $10 per car on game days. We still offer free public parking in the South Housing and Blackwell Lots on campus and fans can purchase a season pass for $35 (or prepay parking online for $7 per game). Paladin Club members will continue to utilize the Timmons and Stadium Lots as in previous years. Game tickets will be for sale in both the Timmons Ticket Office, as well as on the Visitors Side of Paladin Stadium (yes - you can buy ‘Home” tickets on the Visitors Side to shorten your walk)."