Friday, August 31, 2018

Paladins ready to open 2018 season

Furman senior captain Harris Roberts is slated to make his first
career start Saturday at Clemson. Photo courtesy of Furman.
Furman won't exactly be tipping its toes into the 2018 college football season Saturday afternoon. It's more like jumping right off into the deep end as the Paladins open with a road trip to FBS No. 2-ranked Clemson. It's the highest-ranked FBS opponent Furman has ever faced.

The last time the Paladins faced an opponent this highly rated was 30 years ago, when Furman's Division I-AA national championship team opened the season with a 23-3 loss at third-ranked Clemson.

With a stronger, faster team compared to last, Furman is ready to get the season started no matter the challenges it faces Saturday. Paladins coach Clay Hendrix hopes his team will play better than they did in their last meeting against an FBS foe, when Furman fell at N.C. State 49-16 last season. Like Clemson, N.C. State featured a very talented defensive line, but Hendrix said the challenge will be tougher Saturday, "from top to bottom."

"We've just got to go play as well as we can play and do the things that we can do," Hendrix said. "How big they are doesn't affect you taking a good first step, being where you're supposed to be and controlling what you can control.
"We've got to play hard. We like to think we play a pretty physical style and that's the way we have to play."

Despite missing time in preseason camp with a hand injury, fifth-year senior captain Harris Roberts has earned the starting nod at quarterback Saturday. It will be the first career start for Roberts, who has made national headlines with his unique story of playing football for Furman while attending classes at Clemson as a full-time engineering student. His story will be featured on ESPN's College GameDay show, which airs Saturday starting at 9 a.m.

As for how much Roberts plays, that's still an unknown given the practice he's missed in the preseason. Redshirt freshman JeMar Lincoln is Roberts' backup, while true freshman Darren Grainger and Hamp Sisson are No. 3 and 4 on the depth chart, respectively. It's a pretty safe bet that one of the reserve quarterbacks will play Saturday, but all three could.

"We have little to no experience at that (quarterback) position. I like the kids we have there. I think they're going to be good players, but just how quickly that can happen, I don't know," Hendrix said. "I think their supporting cast is much better than P.J.'s supporting cast a year ago. I think these guys around them have a little better chance to help them.
"I think we're just better everywhere."

While the biggest challenge Saturday for Furman could be blocking Clemson's defensive front, the Paladins' defense faces a big challenge as well. The group has more experience overall than the offense, but is still a young unit.

"When we've had success in these games, it's always been when our defense had a chance to play well or match up," Hendrix said. "If they can't, I don't think you can ever score enough points."

Hendrix said he anticipates at least three quarterbacks playing Saturday. That won't be the only position with a heavy rotation.

"We plan on playing a bunch of guys (overall). We feel like we've got some depth that we haven't had since I've been here," Hendrix said. "This game isn't going to make us or break us, but I think we will find out a little about ourselves."

Starting the season with Clemson, Elon and Colgate offers Furman a few chances to find out a lot more about themselves ahead of Southern Conference play. The Paladins first SoCon game is Sept. 22 at ETSU.

"Ultimately, we want to win our conference championship which gives us a chance to play for the national championship," Hendrix said. "You would think by the time we play a conference game, we have a chance to be a pretty seasoned grouped."

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