Wednesday, November 20, 2019

The point of playing Point

Furman's Quandarius Weems (13) makes a tackle during the
Paladins loss at Wofford. Photo courtesy of Furman
With its hopes of earning an outright Southern Conference championship dashed in last Saturday's 24-7 loss at Wofford, the Furman football team has turned its attention to Point in the regular season finale this Saturday at Paladin Stadium. Point is an NAIA team coached by former Furman standout player and assistant Julius Dixon. Dixon was a captain on the 1988 national championship team.

It's an unusual opponent in an unusual time of the season and it took an unusual path to get scheduled. As Coach Clay Hendrix said in his weekly Monday press conference, Furman's first game against a non-Division I team in 11 years was a necessary one for a number of reasons.

Two years ago, a Furman opponent scheduled for this season asked to move the game back of couple of years and the Paladins agreed. Hendrix said they spent eight-nine months trying to find a replacement with no luck. Then when the SoCon schedule for this season came out earlier than normal, Furman drew a bye for the final week of the regular season.

"Nobody has an available playing spot the last week of the regular season. Last year, we lost (playing) a game (Colgate) to a hurricane and we were sitting here with the prospect of losing another game this year," Hendrix said. "Division II's not allowed because their playoffs begin this week. There were literally two teams in the country who could play and Point was one of them.
"Given our history with Julius Dixon, we chose to play them, and even then they had to write an appeal to the NAIA to be able to play the game. I'm appreciative of Point for our kids to have the chance to play a 12th game."

It will be Furman's first non-Div. I opponent since facing Mars Hill in 2008. In the 10 years since then, every other SoCon team has played a non-Div. I opponent at least twice combining for a total of 38 games.

When looking at the schedule prior to the season, Hendrix said he also didn't want to risk having back-to-back bye weeks should Furman have received one of the eight seeds in the FCS playoffs.

Hosting Point gives Furman six regular season home games for the first time since the 2014 season. It comes a year after the Paladins played just four times at Paladin Stadium thanks to the Colgate game being cancelled. Not having a chance to earn a seventh win last season - against a Colgate team it beat 45-14 on the road in 2017 - likely cost Furman an FCS playoff bid.

A win Saturday would give Furman (7-4) eight regular season wins for the first time since 2006, Hendrix's last year as an assistant here. While a convincing victory over Point (5-6) may not boost the Paladins' playoff resume, it certainly should not hurt it. Kennesaw State moved up three spots in the FCS' Coaches poll following it's 59-0 win over Point to open the season.

"I certainly feel like if we take care of business, we have a great chance to play again next week," Hendrix said. "We're going to get back to basics a little bit this week. I told our team, 'we're going to play the guys that practice the best this week.' ... We've just got to play better and be more productive at certain positions, and we've got to coach better."

Defense gave Paladins a chance
There's no doubt Furman was defeated in the trenches at Wofford last Saturday. But it wasn't quite as one-sided as it felt or looked on the scoreboard. The biggest problem defensively for the Paladins was when they allowed the Terriers to score touchdowns - on the first two drives of the game to take control, and the first drive of the second half to take command.

Overall, Wofford outgained Furman 336-265. During the Terriers' seven-game winning streak in FCS play, that's far and away the fewest total yards and points they've had. Wofford was averaging 45 points a game in those previous six FCS games. Here's the total yards the Terriers posted in those games: Gardner-Webb (575), VMI (581), ETSU (464), Western Carolina (613), Chattanooga (452) and Mercer (558).

It seemed that of the times Furman stopped Wofford, it was a big play made by someone in the secondary. Of the five tackles-for-loss the Paladins had, three were by cornerbacks - Travis Blackshear, Amir Trapp and Quandarius Weems. Meanwhile, spur Jordan Willis led the team with eight tackles.

"I don't think we had many guys that played really well on either side of the ball, but our corners did," Hendrix said.

The difference in the game essentially came down to the two goal line stands by Wofford's defense and the Terriers' field goal off the game's lone turnover. For arguably the 10th time this season, Furman's defense gave the team a chance to win.

"We gave them the last three (points) with the turnover, which is another play that should've been a first down completion. But if you had told me they would've scored 21 points, I'd have said 'we will win,' " Hendrix said. "It's kind of like how we've played defense all year. We've bent a little bit at times, but we kind of find ways to keep people in check. That's the reason we lead the league in scoring defense."

Poll changes, etc.
Furman fell from seventh to 15th in this week's FCS Coaches poll, and from ninth to 17th in the STATS poll. ... Devin Wynn had 56 yards rushing Saturday to become Furman's first 1,000-yard rusher since 2013. The junior has 1,038 yards this season. ... The FCS playoff selection show is scheduled for Sunday at 12:30 p.m. on ESPNU.

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