Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Depth on display for Paladins

Furman freshman Travis Blackshear sacks Charleston Southern quarterback
Jack Chambers and forces a fumble Saturday. Photo courtesy of Furman
As might be expected in a 33-point win, Furman emptied the bench during Saturday's victory over Charleston Southern. A total of 61 Paladins participated. Of those, 31 recorded at least one tackle. But there was plenty of rotation going on at many positions for Furman throughout the game, not just when the outcome was certain.

Of the five sacks recorded by Furman's defense, four were made by non-starters. Everyone knows what a force Adrian Hope is off the bench and the 2018 FCS leader in sacks picked up right where he left off last season with a sack, two tackles for loss and a quarterback hurry. Backup defensive end Dru Seabrook led the unit with 1.5 sacks Saturday, while backup cornerback Travis Blackshear made perhaps the biggest.

Late in the third quarter with the Paladins leading 32-13, Charleston Southern had first down at the Furman 12-yard line. Blackshear came on a blindside blitz. Not only did the redshirt freshman get the sack, he also forced a fumble that teammate Jonah Tibbs recovered. Three plays later, fullback Carson Maples rumbled for a 66-yard touchdown to essentially remove all doubt.

"Travis is one of those guys that's only going to get better and better as he goes," Furman coach Clay Hendrix said during his weekly press conference Monday. "That was a big play in the game.
"I think Dru maybe had as good an offseason as anybody we have. He's a guy that just keeps showing up and being productive."

On the offensive side of the ball, freshman Wayne Anderson Jr. and Maples put up 90 and 86 yards rushing, respectively, off the bench. Anderson, who also had a 66-yard touchdown run, also caught two passes for 31 yards. That included a huge 28-yard catch to convert a third down on Furman's touchdown run midway through the third quarter.

Freshman center Evan Jumper essentially split time in a rotation with starter Cole Neely Saturday and the Paladins didn't miss a beat. Often a new center entering the game could mean issues with handling the ball on snaps, especially in a season opener. On Saturday, Furman had no turnovers and never even had a fumble offensively on 40 rushing attempts and 17 completions.

"We take snaps a lot. We do it after practice, before we go out on the field (during the game)," Furman quarterback Darren Grainger said following Saturday's win. "It's just getting out there and playing at that point."

In addition to Jumper, Hendrix praised fellow true freshman Pearson Toomey, the backup right tackle. Hendrix pointed out that on Anderson's long scoring run, Toomey blocked his initial defender then pancaked the safety to help spring the run.

Hendrix said seeing a lot of different Paladins take the field will be the norm.

"Our plan was to play a lot of guys. I think there's only one or two positions on our team where there's a really distinct difference between one guy and the next. I think we will practice better today because we played all those kids Saturday," Hendrix said. "We plan to go to Atlanta (Saturday at Georgia State) and play a lot of guys and then Virginia Tech the next week. That's our plan going forward."

Injury update
Anderson and Maples, along with Devin Wynn's 131-yard showing, helped Furman pile up 369 yards rushing. That was accomplished without the services of Corey Watkins (turf toe), who may be the fastest player on the team. Hendrix said Watkins could've played if needed, but another week off allowed him to get more fully healthy.

"He practiced pretty well last week. We just didn't feel like he was 100 percent," Hendrix said. "Hopefully, he will be back this week."

Moving up in the polls
Saturday's victory vaulted Furman up six spots to No. 11 in this week's FCS Coaches' poll. The Paladins went up two to No. 17 in the FCS STATS (media) poll.

Atkins earns weekly honor
Grayson Atkins is the SoCon special teams player of the week. The former Boiling Springs High standout averaged 45 yards per punt and put two inside the 10-yard line. He had six touchbacks and a 39-yard field goal to tie the school record for consecutive made field goals at 12.

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