Saturday, October 19, 2019

Furman's rainy homecoming ruined by Rainey

Furman defensive end Jonah Tibbs strips The Citadel quarterback
Brandon Rainey of the ball Saturday. Photo courtesy of Furman
The first game in the second half of Furman's regular season schedule couldn't have been more different from any in the first half. With a kickoff temperature of 56 degrees, Saturday's homecoming contest against rival The Citadel was far and away the chilliest game this year and the No. 8-ranked Paladins were colder.

It was also the wettest day of the season. While Furman's dreams of an unbeaten run through the Southern Conference and potentially earning an FCS playoff seed were washed away Saturday, rain wasn't the big problem. Rainey was. As in Bulldogs' quarterback Brandon Rainey, who was 100 percent healthy for the first time since their win at Georgia Tech. Rainey had 165 of Citadel's 360 yards rushing as the Bulldogs defeated the Paladins 27-10.

The loss snaps Furman's eight-game winning streak against FCS competition. The Paladins (4-3, 3-1) had previously only trailed FCS teams for all of 13 seconds this season, but trailed Saturday from the 9:10 mark of the first quarter on.

"Hats off to Citadel and Coach (Brent) Thompson. Their football team outplayed us in every way imaginable today," Furman coach Clay Hendrix said. "Obviously, that starts with me. It was an all around frustrating day."

The Paladins took the opening kickoff and had solid drive that culminated in a 48-yard field goal by Grayson Atkins, his 17th consecutive successful try. The Bulldogs answered as Rainey kept for a 48-yard gain on their second play to reach the Furman 25. One of his four pass completions Saturday went for 12 yards on 3rd-and-10 later in the drive, which culminated in a five-yard touchdown run by Clay Harris.

Despite forcing three turnovers and having no penalties in the first half, Furman still trailed 7-3 until the third quarter. That's when Citadel (4-4, 2-2) won a battle of field position. The second half opened when Atkins' kickoff into the wind sailed out of bounds giving the Bulldogs the ball at the 35. Out of 95 kickoffs in his collegiate career, that was Atkins' first that ever landed out of bounds.

On the Bulldogs' first play from scrimmage, Nkem Njoku popped off a 23-yard run to the Furman 42. While Citadel had to punt, it was downed at the Furman five-yard line. After going three-and-out on that drive, the Paladins next drive started at the seven and it also was a three-and-out. This time Atkins' 25-yard punt set up Citadel at Furman's 31-yard line. Six plays later, Dante Smith ran for a four-yard touchdown as the Bulldogs led 14-3.

A touchback finally allowed Furman to start a drive away from its old goal line, but this drive was literally three-and-out. On third down, Grainger was sacked and stripped of the ball. Citadel recovered as the Furman 12 and two plays later, Remus Bulmer ran for an eight-yard touchdown to push the lead to 21-3 with 3:33 left in the third quarter.

"A regret I kind of have is I took the wind in the fourth quarter and the third quarter killed us," Hendrix said. "They just completely flipped the field on us."

A Furman offense that had touchdowns on eight of its first nine drives last time out at Samford on Oct. 5 finally found the end zone on its ensuing possession. Devin Wynn's four-yard touchdown run capped a 15-play drive took an agonizing 6:38 off the clock.

Trailing 21-10 with 11:55 left, Furman needed some quick stops and quick scores as the rain began to pour down sideways at Paladin Stadium. The Paladins got neither. Citadel's possession following the touchdown took 13 plays and shaved 7:11 off the clock before Jacob Godek hit a 30-yard field goal. After four consecutive incompletions on Furman's next drive, Godek hit a 46-yard field goal for the final margin.

"I told (offensive coordinator) George Quarles before the game if we're going to make some hay we'd better make it while we've got a chance to throw it around a little bit and we didn't," Hendrix said. "Trying to throw it around at the end of that game (in the weather conditions) was nil, but I don't want to take anything away from them. They just outplayed us in every way, shape and form."

While Furman's defense wasn't as lights out as it had been the past few weeks, limiting an opponent to 27 points could win a lot of college football games in 2019 - especially with an offense like Furman's. However, the Paladins never got things clicking on that side of the ball.

The running game wasn't bad, but wasn't as spectacular as it has been this season. The Paladins had 10 runs of 11 yards are more Saturday, but none longer than 15. More importantly, Furman failed to convert twice on third-and-one and once on fourth-and-one. Meanwhile, Grainger suffered his toughest day as a Paladin as he completed 5-of-25 passes for 44 yards.

"We couldn't get any chunk plays and we just couldn't get anything out of the passing game," Hendrix said. "How we're built, our plan is to hit a lot of those throws and we just didn't hit any of them. Darren had a really tough day, but he didn't get a whole lot of help either."

The Paladins started 0-of-5 on third down conversions before getting a meaningless one in the final seconds of the first half. Furman ended up 3-of-14 on third down and 1-of-4 on fourth. After putting up 647 yards of total offense at Samford, Furman had 216 Saturday. That's the fewest by the Paladins since a 10-7 loss at Presbyterian - in similarly lousy weather - in 2014. The 10-point output was the lowest at home since a 45-0 loss to Samford also in 2014 and also on homecoming.

"Our bunch will come back. I'll be shocked if they don't," Hendrix said. "We've been in this situation the last two years and won out. So that's our goal again."

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