Friday, October 19, 2018

Furman set for completely different challenge

Furman bandit Chris Washington, left, forces a fumble during the
Paladins' 34-14 win over Wofford. Photo courtesy of Furman
A week after containing the leading rushing team in the FCS, Furman gets a shot at the nation's leading passing team. Coming off their most impressive performance of the season in a win over Wofford, the Paladins host Samford on homecoming Saturday at 2 p.m.

Led by senior star quarterback Devlin Hodges, the Bulldogs (3-4, 2-2 Southern Conference) are averaging 387.3 yards passing per game. That's about two yards less than what Wofford's ground game averaged per game entering last Saturday before being held to 247 in Furman's 34-14 win.

Hodges, who's on pace to obliterate just about every SoCon career passing record, leads the FCS in passing yards (2,674 yards) and touchdowns (24) and ranks second in completion percentage (70.4). No other FCS player has more than 2,081 yards or 16 touchdowns.

"They're really talented. If you went to pick out teams a bunch of their players would get picked just standing there with their size, quickness and speed," Furman coach Clay Hendrix said. "We're getting better. We just have to keep improving.
"We've just got to find a way to make him (Hodges) a little uncomfortable."

Therein lies what Hendrix called a double-edged sword though. Furman (2-3, 2-1) will at time be faced with a decision on whether to blitz Hodges or drop back in coverage. In Samford's fast-paced offense, Hodges gets rid of the ball quickly. One factor in that decision could be the recent play of the Paladins' bandits.

Starter Chris Washington has been on a tear of late, while reserve freshman Adrian Hope leads the SoCon in sacks with six. After a 12-tackle performance in Furman's win over Western Carolina, Washington had six tackles, including 2.5 for loss, a sack and a huge forced fumble against Wofford. Against the run-heavy Terriers, sack opportunities were limited for Hope last Saturday but he still made a big play with a pass breakup on third down that forced a Wofford punt.

"The last two games, Chris Washington has shown up better than at any time that I've been here," Hendrix said. "He's always been a solid player, but he's just taken it to a different level.
"Adrian's already proven he's pretty good at the pass-rush stuff and he's working to get better at the other stuff. You certainly hope he's a guy (to contribute) this week."

Obviously, Furman's secondary will be tested Saturday and having all hands on deck will be a key. Hendrix said that starting cornerback Amir Trapp should be back this Saturday, while fellow starting corner Quandarius Weems could return. Trapp missed last Saturday's game because he could not risk having stitches come out from where he had a cyst removed. Weems has been out since suffering a knee sprain at Elon on Sept. 8.

Offensively, the Paladins will look to build on the momentum they've gained of late. After scoring a total of five touchdowns over the first three games, Furman has five offensive touchdowns in each of its last two games.

"You'd like to limit their possessions and the best way to keep them off the field is to keep the ball. ... We had that nine-minute from the third to fourth quarter last week and I wouldn't mind a couple of more of those," Hendrix said. "They graduated a few guys, but they're pretty solid defensively.
"Historically, they play a different defense against a so-called option team but I don't know how they view us right now. So it will be an interesting match-up."

Samford, the SoCon's consensus preseason favorite, had a rough September. After a season-opening win, the Bulldogs had five turnovers to blow an excellent chance of winning at Florida State, which started a four-game losing streak. The Bulldogs have righted the ship in October with a 66-28 win over Western Carolina and a 73-22 victory over VMI. While both Furman and Samford made last season's FCS playoffs, Saturday's game could be a must-win for keeping postseason hopes alive this year.

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