Friday, September 21, 2018

Paladins set to hit the road - again

Kealand Dirks ran for 100 yards and two touchdowns in Furman's
56-35 win over ETSU in 2017. Photo courtesy of Furman
One week after having its home opener hurricaned out, the Furman football team returns to action Saturday for yet another road game. When the Paladins take on ETSU at 7:30 p.m. it will mark their sixth consecutive game away from Paladin Stadium. That's the longest stretch of road games in 36 years.

"I'm just disappointed for our kids, who've been going at it for two months now basically," Furman coach Clay Hendrix said following last week's cancelled home opener. "I've coached here for 15 games now and five have been at home."

On Saturday, that becomes five out of 16. More importantly, it's a chance to sort of hit the restart button for the Paladins after two lopsided losses to open the season. It's a chance to put the distractions of another road trip and having the home opener wiped out behind them and open Southern Conference play on the right foot.

That chance comes against a team that Furman has gotten on track against each of the last two seasons. Furman was 0-6 in 2017 when it traveled to Johnson City, Tenn. and left with a 52-7 win. Last year, the Paladins were 1-3 having just come off a convincing win at Colgate and kept up the momentum with a 56-35 home win over ETSU.

Thus far this season, all of the Paladins' scoring has come on single fourth-quarter touchdowns against Clemson and Elon. A closer look reveals that the offense hasn't been as bad as the scoreboard might indicate. Furman rushed for 195 yards two weeks ago at Elon. The Paladins had just 117 net yards rushing at Clemson in the season opener, but that includes a 30-yard loss on a high snap.

That 117-yard rushing total against Clemson's touted front is more than Texas A&M (71) and run-heavy Georgia Southern (80) posted against the Tigers in the last two weeks.

"We played a really good team, who played really well and we made a ton of mistakes," Hendrix said about the Elon loss. "I don't ever do this, but I picked up a stat sheet at the half. We had 12 or 13 first downs and almost 200 yards of offense. We started the game in an awful way (turnover on the second play) and we just kept shooting ourselves in the foot."

Like the offense, Furman's defense will also look to turn things around after allowing 48 and 45 points in the first two weeks, respectively.  Last year against ETSU, the Paladins sacked Austin Herink six times but he resiliently passed for 434 yards. It appears that Furman won't be facing him Saturday though as Temple transfer Logan Marchi is the new starter at quarterback for the Buccaneers. He's thrown for 526 yards, three touchdowns and five interceptions this season, while rushing for 88 yards and a score.

Unlike in previous seasons since the rebirth of ETSU's football program, the Bucs (2-1, 1-0 SoCon) have a more balanced attack this season under new coach Randy Sanders. Quay Holmes has rushed for 222 yards and two touchdowns, while Jacob Saylors has 118 yards rushing on a 5.9 yards per carry average.

A big issue for Furman's defense thus far has been a departure from last year's success. In 2017, the Paladins had 34 sacks and forced 18 turnovers. This year, Furman has two sacks and no turnovers defensively. Conversely, Furman's offense has been sacked six times and turned it over five times.

"If you watched the league last Saturday, this thing is wide open. It's who can play the best and be consistent," Hendrix said. "For us, it's just playing better on offense and defensively, we've got to find a way to create some turnovers and get off the field."

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