Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Paladins rise to No. 8 in both FCS polls

Furman's Darren Grainger (4) and Devin Wynn (22) rank among
the national leaders in some FCS statistical categories.
Having a bye the week after your most dominant performance of the season may be seen as unfortunate timing for some football teams. However, Furman coach Clay Hendrix believes his team's off week smack dab in the middle of its 12-game regular season was just right.

Furman practiced in full pads last Tuesday and Wednesday, and lifted weights and watched film on Thursday before taking the weekend off. The Saturday off coincided with the school's fall break. That gives Paladins a couple more days off from class as they resumed their normal weekly schedule in preparation for the 99th meeting against rival The Citadel Saturday at Paladin Stadium.

"I thought it came at a good time for us. We've had a tough six-game schedule. I could tell our kids were excited to have the chance to get away, and I think they're excited about the rest of the season and about playing this week," Hendrix said at his weekly press conference Monday. "We tried to get a little better physically, mentally and academically. I thought it was a really productive time."

The Paladins returned to practice Monday as the eighth-ranked team in the country in this week's FCS' Coaches and STATS polls. It's the highest-ranking the Paladins have had since being ranked No. 7 prior to their first-round loss at Montana State in the 2006 FCS playoffs.

"We love being there (highly ranked), but Georgia probably loved being there too Saturday. They're not there anymore because they didn't take care of business," Hendrix said. "We're in a good spot. If we can take care of business, play well and win football games, everything kind of takes care of itself."

Furman piled up 647 yards of total offense in a 58-14 win at Samford its last time out. The offensive production marked the highest point total posted on the road by the Paladins since a 63-21 win at Chattanooga in the 2003 season finale.

Meanwhile, Furman's defense continued its dominant run thus far in SoCon play. The Paladins slowed down a Samford offense that had been averaging 43.4 points per game. They held ETSU - which was averaging 24.8 points - to 10, and Mercer - which had been averaging 42.7 points - to 10. Furman has allowed just 10 points combined in the second half against FCS competition, including three points - an ETSU field goal - in SoCon play.

"I'm really proud of our defense and the progress they've made there over the last few weeks," Hendrix said. "They probably haven't gotten enough credit for the job they've done, particularly in conference games and really since the Georgia State game.
"They're a group that's playing with a lot of confidence right now."

Paladins ranked elsewhere
In addition to ranking in the top 10 in both polls this week, Furman also ranks in the top 10 nationally in several statistical categories. In FCS stats, the Paladins rank:

  • No. 2 in red zone offense at 95.7 percent. Furman has scored on 22 of 23 trips to the red zone with 20 touchdowns this season. The only scoreless trip came when the Paladins led Mercer 45-10 late in the fourth quarter and used simple handoff plays to run out the clock.
  • No. 2 in rushing yards per carry at 6.41.
  • No. 3 in punt return defense at minus-0.29 yards per return. Opponents have a total of minus-two yards on seven returns.
  • No. 4 in rushing offense at 298 yards per game.
  • No. 6 in fewest penalties at 4.17 per game.
  • No. 10 in third down conversions at 50 percent.
  • No. 10 in fewest penalty yardage at 38.5 per game.
Individually, Furman redshirt freshman quarterback Darren Grainger ranks third in yards per completion (16.51), fourth in yards per attempts (9.84) and sixth in passing efficiency (174.9). Junior tailback Devin Wynn is No. 3 in rushing yards per carry at 8.41.

Thanks to his part of Furman's stellar punt return defense, junior Grayson Atkins ranks second in net punting (42.7 yards per punt). He's fourth in kickoff touchbacks with 25. Having not missed a field goal for a school-record 16 consecutive attempts, he obviously has made 100 percent of them this season. However, his five attempts aren't enough to register among the national leaders in field goal percentage.

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