Friday, September 6, 2019

Paladins face new opponent, but familiar faces

Furman left tackle and team captain Bo Layton reacts during the Paladins'
46-13 win over Charleston Southern. Photo courtesy of Furman
Following its first ever meeting against Charleston Southern last week, Furman football faces another new opponent in Georgia State this week. There will be quite a few familiar faces on the Panthers' sideline Saturday night in Atlanta though. Georgia State's coaching staff has deep Southern Conference roots.

Those roots begin at the top with head coach Shawn Elliott. Elliott was a standout defensive end at Appalachian State in the 1990's before serving as an assistant on Jerry Moore's staff for 13 years. The Camden native went on to coach as an assistant at South Carolina before being hired by Georgia State two years ago.

GSU offensive coordinator Brad Glenn joined Elliott's staff this year after seven seasons as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Western Carolina. Prior to Western, Glenn coached quarterbacks at Appalachian State. So during his career, he's been the position coach for Armanti Edwards, DeAndre Presley, Troy Mitchell and Tyrie Adams. The Seneca native, who played at Clemson, also had coaching stints at Greer High, Seneca High and North Greenville.

Panthers' defensive coordinator Nate Fuqua came to GSU in 2017 following 12 years as assistant to Mike Ayers at Wofford. Fuqua, who enjoyed a Hall of Fame playing career as a nose tackle for the Terriers, was the defensive coordinator at Wofford for his final three seasons there.

Fuqua was succeeded as Wofford defensive coordinator by Shiel Wood, who's now in his first season as inside linebackers coach at GSU. Wood, a Spartanburg native who played receiver at Wofford, was an assistant with the Terriers for eight years.

"They've tweaked the offense a little bit, but it's really similar to what we've seen from Western Carolina the past few years. They have a veteran quarterback who's truly a dual-threat guy," Furman coach Clay Hendrix said. "Their defense looks a lot like Wofford. The difference for their defense (this season) is they're a year older and they have a lot of kids back who are playing with more confidence. ... They've always been coached really well."

Georgia State safeties coach Chris Collins previously was an assistant at Appalachian State and Western Carolina. Wide receivers coach Trent McKnight was an offensive assistant at Samford for four years before coming to GSU in 2017.

Panthers' tight ends coach Josh Stepp began his collegiate playing career at Furman before moving on to become the all-time leading passer in Newberry history. Offensive line coach Thomas Austin spent the previous four seasons on Clemson's staff, where he assisted offensive line coach Robbie Caldwell, who is set to be inducted into Furman's Hall of Fame this season.

The ties even extend to the athletic department staff. Georgia State athletic director Charlie Cobb previously spent nine years as Appalachian State AD. Cobb's the brother of former Furman offensive tackle David Cobb, who's now an expert analyst - especially of officials - for the Furman football radio broadcast team.

While this is the first of two FBS games for Furman, Georgia State is a program still relatively new to FBS and football in general. The Panthers began play in 2010 with the intention of moving to the FBS level from the start. After three seasons as an FCS member, GSU joined the FBS' Sun Belt Conference in 2013.

Despite a 17-10 loss to FCS member Tennessee State in Elliott's head coaching debut, he guided the Panthers to their best season ever in 2017 at 7-5. Georgia State went 2-10 last year, but opened this season with a 38-30 upset win at Tennessee.

"A lot of people were surprised but if you watch the tape, the best team won Saturday (in Knoxville). It may have not been the most talented team, but they were the best team," Hendrix said. "That's what's great about our sport - the most talented bunch doesn't always win.
"A non-power five (team) and a power five both have 85 scholarships, so it's not a total shock when that happens. Now we're going there with almost 25 scholarships less. That's a big difference."

Furman will look to build off a dominant 33-point win over Charleston Southern to open the season. The Paladins piled up 509 yards of total offense last Saturday, including 369 on the ground, and had no turnovers last Saturday. The showing moved Furman up in this week's FCS Coaches' poll to No. 11, its highest ranking in 12 years.

The Paladin rushing attack could receive an additional boost this week if Corey Watkins (turf toe) is able to play. One of the fastest players on the team, Watkins sat out last Saturday to give his toe another week to heal. Unlike last week when he wasn't listed on the depth chart, Watkins has an "or" designation with freshman Wayne Anderson Jr. as the backup to starter Devin Wynn this week.

Georgia State's defense allowed 251 rushing yards per game last season, but held Tennessee to 93 (3.0 yards per carry) last week.

"They're (Georgia State) a much improved football team from a year ago. That's obvious just watching them," Hendrix said. "We will certainly have our work cut out for us.
"It's been a good start to the year. It's just a matter of can we improve. Our goal is to just be the best team on Saturday, so that's what we're trying to be."

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