Friday, September 28, 2018

Finally home, Paladins seek first win

In case you've forgotten, this is what Furman's home uniform looks like. The
Paladins finally play a home game this Saturday. Photo courtesy of Furman.
After six consecutive road trips, the Furman football team finally returns to the friendly confines of Paladin Stadium Saturday afternoon. When the Paladins kick off against Western Carolina at 2:05 p.m., it will be the first home game since a 56-20 win over The Citadel last Nov. 11.

Routing it's biggest rival in its last home game was sweet for Furman. On Saturday, any old kind of win will do.

The Paladins will try to rebound from a horrific loss at ETSU last Saturday night in which they blew a 27-6 third quarter lead. While there were a litany of problems that resulted in the 29-27 loss, there was one underlying issue: With a three-touchdown lead midway through the third quarter, the Paladins couldn't move the ball against a team it gained over 600 yards against last season. Furman had just seven yards of total offense after its touchdown drive that made it 27-6.

The Paladins had an especially tough time running inside. Fullback Kealand Dirks, who rushed for 100 yards on 15 carries against ETSU last season, had 18 yards on seven attempts Saturday. Thirteen of those 18 yards came on Dirks' first two carries of the game, including an eight-yard touchdown to cap Furman's opening drive.

"We're really searching offensively for an identity, something we can do to fit our personnel," Furman coach Clay Hendrix said after Saturday's game. "I wish we could just line up and do what we want to. We just aren't good enough to do that right now, especially up front."

While many were wondering how Furman (0-3, 0-1 Southern Conference) would replace departed quarterback P.J. Blazejowski, just as big shoes to fill have been those of linemen Matt Schmidt and Terrell Bush. The Paladins offensive line is battling growing pains as last week's starting five included four sophomores and one junior. Cole Neely made his first start at center as Reed Kroeber switched back to his natural position of guard, marking the third time this season that an offensive lineman earned his first career start.

After scoring 14 points over the first two weeks of the season, Furman had hoped to get things on track two weeks ago against a Colgate team it whipped last season. With two weeks off after the unexpected cancellation of the game due to weather concerns from Hurricane Florence, the Paladins got some things going last week with senior captain Harris Roberts back in at quarterback. Inconsistency plagued the Paladins however.

"At times, we did some pretty good things but we just couldn't sustain," Hendrix said. "You can only do certain things for so long. At some point, you've got to block people and knock 'em around a little bit.
"We're really searching offensively for an identity, something we can do to fit our personnel."

While Western Carolina enters Saturday's game undefeated, Furman's offense figures to have a chance to gain some more confidence. The Paladins rushed for 363 yards in a pouring rainstorm at Cullowhee last season, as Furman defeated the then 18th-ranked Catamounts 28-6.

Western Carolina is 3-0 overall and 1-0 in the SoCon after holding on for a 52-50 home win over VMI last Saturday. The Keydets, who scored a total of 68 points in eight SoCon games last season, dropped a two-point conversion that would've likely forced overtime. The Catamounts opened the season by rallying from a 26-19 fourth quarter deficit for a 33-26 win over Division II Newberry. Two weeks ago, WCU won 28-10 at Gardner-Webb.

The Catamounts are led by dynamic junior quarterback Tyrie Adams, who ranks third in the SoCon with an average of 301 yards of total offense per game. Adams leads the league in rushing at 101.3 yards per game, while teammate Connell Young is second at 97 yards per game. Adams is averaging 6.6 yards per carry and has four rushing touchdowns. Adams is averaging 199.7 passing yards per game and has completed 61.4 percent of his passes. He's thrown five touchdowns and two interceptions.

"We've had a good week of practice. We're excited to get to play and especially excited to get to play at home," Hendrix said at his weekly radio show Thursday. "I expect us to go play well.
"We're struggling with the details of the things that make you into a really good football team. ... We're trying to make 'em grow up fast and that's a challenging thing."

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