Saturday, September 1, 2018

Paladins overpowered by Clemson in opener

Furman football coach Clay Hendrix
Photo courtesy of Furman University
CLEMSON - Clemson looked every bit the part of the FBS' No. 2-ranked team in the country Saturday. The Tigers piled up 531 yards of total offense (277 passing, 254 rushing) to cruise to a 48-7 win over Furman in the 2018 season opener at Death Valley.

Furman was holding its own for much of the first half defensively. The Paladins trailed 13-0 with less than three minutes to play in the half before the levee broke. Clemson scored two touchdowns in a span of 1:51 to take a 27-0 lead into halftime. The Tigers then added two more third quarter touchdowns to remove any doubt.

"They (Clemson) were as advertised, which didn't surprise me. I knew it was going to be a challenge," Furman coach Clay Hendrix said. "Today, I think we were a little bit of a master of nothing. I don't know what we did well."

Clemson's opening drive ended on a fourth down incompletion at the Furman 44-yard line. The Paladins could not take advantage of the good field position, which was a sign of things to come. Furman had eight drives reach at least its own 45-yard line, but only got one score with 1:18 left in the game.

As loud as the crowd of 80,048 was at the opening kickoff, it was even louder when Clemson's defense took the field for the first time. Before Furman's second offensive play, the Paladins - who committed an FCS-best 3.15 penalties per game last season - were flagged for a false start.

"A couple of times, we had decent field position. We just couldn't do anything with it. That's how it is against them," Hendrix said. "I knew the noise was going to be a factor."

Clemson got on the board on its second possession when Kelly Bryant threw a 40-yard touchdown pass to Amari Rodgers. Furman drove to Clemson's 43 on its next drive, but a high snap on third down resulted in a 28-yard loss. Grayson Atkins got off a beautiful, high 53-yard punt, but Rodgers returned it 62 yards to the the Paladins' 20. Furman's defense stood tall though. Elijah McKoy just missed a diving interception on third down before Clemson settled for a 35-yard field goal by Greg Huegel.

Furman drove to the Clemson 38 on its next possession, but redshirt freshman quarterback JeMar Lincoln was stopped for no gain on a 4th-and-1 option play.

After a Clemson field goal pushed the lead to 13-0, the Paladins next drive stalled at midfield. Atkins had a great 42-yard punt that rolled out of bounds at the Clemson five-yard line. It appeared that Furman had forced a three-and-out at the 10. However, a replay review overturned what was previously ruled an incompletion giving the Tigers a first down. Seven plays later, Clemson freshman Trevor Lawrence first a six-yard touchdown pass to Diondre Overton with 2:54 left in the half.

A personal foul on the ensuing kickoff forced Furman to start at its own 13. After a short punt, Clemson's next possession began at the Paladins' 38-yard line. Five plays later, Furman brought a blitz and Clemson running back Travis Etienne hit the vacated hole for a seven-yard touchdown with 1:03 left. That helped the Tigers take a 27-0 lead into halftime.

"I thought we were going to get the ball back at midfield and at worst be down 13, and the we go down 27," Hendrix said. "We've got to respond better. We've gave up a long ball, three-and-outted on offense and gave them another one."

In the second half, Clemson had three touchdowns over a stretch of six offensive plays to put the game away.

Midway through the fourth quarter, Furman drove from its own 20 into the Clemson red zone for the first time thanks in large part to a 45-yard run by Deon Sanders. The drive ended from true freshman quarterback Darren Grainger was stripped of the ball and Clemson recovered at the six-yard line.

Furman's next drive was capped when Grainger hit Ryan DeLuca on a 16-yard touchdown. That helped the Paladins avoid their most lopsided season-opening loss since a 51-7 setback at Georgia Tech in 1995.

With its FBS opponent behind them - and $360,000 payday secured, Furman shifts its attention to FCS play starting with a road trip to Elon next Saturday at 6 p.m.

"We're out of school on Monday, so we will have a little more time than usual. We'll watch the tape ... make adjustments, maybe make some personnel decisions and start formulating the game plan for Elon," Hendrix said. "I like this group and how they work. I think we prepared well. It's just kind of hard to put them in that situation today."

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