Friday, November 9, 2018

Sack-happy Hope set to face pass-happy VMI

Furman redshirt freshman Adrian Hope has 10.5
sacks this season. Photo courtesy of Furman
With 2.5 sacks last week against Chattanooga, Furman freshman bandit Adrian Hope pushed his Southern Conference-leading total to 10.5 this season. That vaulted him into fourth place on Furman's single-season sack chart. Given the Paladins' opponent this week, Hope's performance last week might have just been an appetizer for something bigger.

When Furman plays at VMI Saturday at 1:30 p.m., Hope will face a Keydets' team that has allowed more sacks that any other team in Division I. VMI's given up 43 sacks through nine games this season and it's allowed at least two sacks in every game.

"They're going to throw it a bunch, so you'd hope that we would have some chances to get to the quarterback," Furman coach Clay Hendrix said. "Even if they focus on and double-team Adrian, we have other guys who can rush and create some negative plays."

Hope's standout season has not gone unnoticed. This week, he was named a finalist for the 2018 Blanchard-Rogers Award. The honor is given by the South Carolina Football Hall of Fame to the top player with ties to the state. Hope is the only freshman among the 20 finalists.

What's been most impressive about Hope's season is the way he's gone about it. He's yet to start a game, serving as the backup to senior Chris Washington, who's also had a solid season.

"He's done what he's done without making a start and with us facing two pure option teams. It's not like he's had tons of chances," Hendrix said. "He's got a great 'get off,' and just has a knack. If you look at him, he's not a real imposing kid, but he's got more power than you think he does.
"He's gotten progressively better as the year's gone along. He's becoming more of a complete player, not just a pass rusher."

Hope credits his coaches and teammates for his success. He said the attention players like senior captain Jaylan Reid receives inside opens up one-on-one opportunities for him. No matter what style of offense they're facing on a given week, Hope says the defense keeps the same mentality.

"We focus on us more than we focus on them. Our coaches do a great job preparing us week-to-week," Hope said. "They don't let us get a big head. There's always stuff you can work on to get better.
"The details are everything. Even sometimes when I make a sack, there could've been a better move I could've used. You never know when that the detail will come into place."

A big reason VMI (1-8, 0-7 SoCon) has allowed so many sacks this year is the many opportunities their style of offense provides. Led by sophomore quarterback Reece Udinski, the Keydets rank fifth in the FCS is passing at 324 yards per game. But they've gotten there by throwing more passes than any team in Div. I. With 501 attempts, VMI has thrown 63 more passes than Samford, which has the second-most attempts in the FCS.

It's a short passing game that serves as sort of a ball control offense for VMI. While it may be an unorthodox offense, it's made the Keydets much more competitive than last year. VMI's closest SoCon game last year was a pair of 18-point losses. This year, the Keydets have lost four SoCon games by seven points or less. In its last SoCon game, VMI jumped on top of Chattanooga 21-7 before the Mocs rallied for a 34-27 win. Last Saturday, the Keydets snapped a 25-game losing streak with a 20-11 win over Div. II Tusculum.

While VMI has improved offensively this season, its struggles on defense have continued. Out of 124 FCS teams, the Keydets are 122nd in scoring defense allowing 44.9 points per game. VMI is last in the SoCon in rushing defense, allowing 253.8 per game. With a cold, windy forecast Saturday that could cause problems for both teams' passing games, it's appears to be a golden opportunity for Furman's rushing game to step up in a big way.

If Furman (4-4, 4-2) can maintain its momentum and take care of its own business Saturday, a couple of other SoCon games could make for a very interesting trip to Mercer to close out the regular season next week. A three-way tie for the SoCon championship between ETSU, Furman and Wofford could be achieved if the following results happen:

  • Furman wins its last two games
  • Wofford wins at Western Carolina Saturday
  • Samford loses at Citadel Saturday, but wins at ETSU next week
It's believed that if that three-way tie occurs, Furman would win the tiebreaker and earn the SoCon's automatic bid to the FCS playoffs. So basically, Paladin fans will be rooting for their team Saturday, along with Wofford and Citadel. Football's weird sometimes.

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