Saturday, October 23, 2021

Paladins look to jump in SoCon title race

Furman coaching legend Dick Sheridan greets co-captain Devin Wynn prior to the
pregame coin toss of the Paladins' 24-14 win over Citadel. Photo courtesy of Furman

In the world of college football, nearly all coaches will remind you that a team's biggest game is its next one. For Furman, that wouldn't be a case of "coach speak" the next two weeks. Before traveling to face preseason Southern Conference favorite Chattanooga next Saturday, the Paladins host No. 14-ranked ETSU this Saturday on Homecoming at Paladin Stadium.

The next two weeks could prove to be the biggest determining factor in Furman's hopes of winning the SoCon championship. After Chattanooga handed ETSU (6-1) its first loss of the season last Saturday, there are no undefeated teams in league play. There are five teams with one league loss. ETSU, Mercer and VMI are 3-1 in league play, while Chattanooga and Furman (4-2) are 2-1.

The Paladins will look to get their offense going against a Bucs' defense that has been stingy in the last two gritty matchups in the series. Two years ago in Greenville, Devin Wynn's fourth quarter touchdown lifted Furman to a 17-10 win. This past spring at ETSU, Wynn had a pair of third quarter touchdowns as the Paladins rallied from a 10-0 halftime deficit for a 17-13 win.

Having Wynn back this week would obviously be a boost to Furman. After rushing for 203 yards in a 42-20 win at Wofford two weeks ago, Wynn missed last week's 24-14 win over Citadel with a groin injury he first suffered in August. Earlier this week, Furman coach Clay Hendrix said Wynn was progressing but still questionable to play Saturday.

After Furman's offense was reenergized at Wofford in freshman Jace Wilson's first start at quarterback, it took a step back last week. Against Citadel, the Paladins had just 52 offensive snaps and finished with 289 total yards of offense. More than half of that total came on two first quarter touchdowns - a 90-yard run by Dominic Roberto and a 58-yard pass from Wilson to Ryan Miller.

Sheridan honored

Dick Sheridan was honored at halftime of the Citadel game for his upcoming induction into the College Football Hall of Fame. The Furman coaching legend was also joined on the field by former assistants and players for the pregame coin toss.

Prior to all the on-field celebrations, the Furman Football Players Association (FFPA) had a drop-in for Sheridan where he was inducted into Furman's new Ring of Honor. He was presented with a ring emblazoned with the school's iconic purple diamond F logo that he made famous surrounded by diamonds.

While it's been nearly 40 years since Hendrix played for Sheridan, his old coach still has the same effect on him.

"They asked me to make the introduction on the ring ceremony. I was meeting with recruits at 4 p.m. and then went to do that," Hendrix said. "I got up there and told them, 'I'm a lot more nervous about this than I am about the game.' That's just how it is with Coach (Sheridan). He didn't ever try to be intimidating, he just always kind of was.

"We've stayed in touch a good bit over the years. He's always been a great supporter. ... A lot of the things I've tried to do as a coach, especially as a head coach, most of them came from him."

Brinson just misses another punt block

After missing the Wofford game with an injury, Kam Brinson returned last Saturday. He started at strong safety in place of DiMarcus Clay, who was out for the first half after being flagged for targeting in the third quarter at Wofford.

Brinson made four tackles and possibly the most memorable tackle-for-loss in school history. Late in the first quarter, Brinson just missed his second punt block of the season. He only missed it because Brinson tackled the Citadel punter before he could put toe to leather.

"I think I've seen it from time to time, but it's been a long time. ... Kam just has a knack for getting in there. There's not a timid bone in his body," Hendrix said. "It was actually a pretty smart play by their kid because if he punts, it's getting blocked and we only ended up with a field goal.

"Their guy has been one of the better punters in the league, but obviously it affected him the rest of the night because he didn't punt very well."

Greenville News links

Here are links to recent stories I've written for The Greenville News.

On the Furman's defensive depth paying off in the win over Citadel and the challenge of facing ETSU's dynamic duo of running backs:

On co-captain Elijah McKoy making the most of his first start since 2019 as he made the play of the game against Citadel:

Friday, October 22, 2021

Furman hoops set for challenging schedule

Furman coach Bob Richey Photo courtesy of Furman

College basketball season begins in less than three weeks and the Furman men's team will be facing one of its toughest schedules in recent memory. The slate is highlighted by trips to Louisville (Nov. 12), North Carolina (Dec. 14) and Mississippi State (Dec. 17), The non-conference schedule includes traditional mid-major powers Belmont (Nov. 15), Radford (Nov. 19), College of Charleston (Dec. 3) and Winthrop (Dec. 7).

After opening against Division II North Greenville on Nov. 9, the Paladins won't face another non-Division I opponent the rest of the season. It's the fewest amount of non-Division I foes on a Furman schedule in 14 years. Outside of Western Carolina - which has only four non-conference home games - every other Southern Conference team plays at least two.

In addition to North Greenville, Radford and Charleston, Furman's non-conference home schedule includes Navy (Nov. 21), Appalachian State (Dec. 10) and Presbyterian (Dec. 21).

"We're excited about the schedule. Coach (Jeremy) Growe's done an excellent job being the point man on it," Furman coach Bob Richey said. "We've got some really good programs that are really going to challenge us and prepare us for the league schedule."

In this era of the transfer portal gone wild, some mid-major coaches may have trepidation about scheduling teams from power conferences for fear of it turning into an audition for their top players. After scoring 15 points in Furman's 83-80 loss at Alabama last year, Noah Gurley transferred to the Crimson Tide shortly after the season.

Richey said he has no such apprehension.

"I'm just a believer that you control what you can control and let the rest take care of itself. There were 1,800 players in the portal last year. That's a little south of six per school," Richey said. "That's just the world we're in right now. It's something we're all going to have to figure out ways to navigate, but the schedule isn't factored in."

Timmons Arena has proven to provide quite a home court advantage for Furman the last few seasons. After limited crowds due to COVID-19 protocols last season, the Paladins are undoubtedly hopeful that Timmons can get back to those special atmospheres again this season.

Furman is slated for three SoCon games at its home away from home, the Bon Secours Wellness Arena, in downtown Greenville. Richey still hopes to play more there in the future, specifically non-conference games.

"We've tried to pull some high-majors into The Well, but haven't been able to get anybody to do it," Richey said. "It's unfortunate because I think it could be really good for the Upstate, South Carolina and college basketball to use that facility.

"To have four teams playing there on a Friday night during football season would be really fun. ... It's the tough part of scheduling, but we're going to keep trying."

Offices receive upgrade

Construction to renovate and expand spaces for the men's and women's basketball teams is set to wrap up this fall. The $3 million worth of upgrades came about entirely through private donations made by former players and fans of the program.

In the past, players and coaches shared the same meeting space. Now there will be separate rooms for teams and coaches and a separate film room. Locker rooms are also being upgraded. Richey said these improvements are impactful on multiple levels.

"Usually when a recruit comes to campus, the first place they go to is the office. It's your first impression point," Richey said. "It's your area you work in every day as a staff and it's also a space to show what your program's about."

Locker room improvements include an expansion, an improved lounge for players, a fueling station for nutrition and upgraded showers and bathrooms. All of this work is the first phase of a comprehensive plan to improve Timmons Arena.

"It gives our players and staff the best learning and working environment possible. That's a really important piece to me," Richey said. "You can't have bottom third facilities with top third expectations. It just doesn't work like that."

Assistants promoted

Richey announced the promotion of two assistants this offseason - Jeremy Growe and Daniel Fowler. Set to begin his third season on Richey's staff, Growe has been promoted to associate head coach. Fowler, a former standout player who's been the program's recruiting director the past three seasons, has been promoted to assistant to the head coach.

Televised games

Furman is set to appear in two of the five SoCon games that will be carried by ESPN's family of networks this season. The Paladins' game at UNCG on Jan. 5 will air on ESPNNEWS, while their game at ETSU on Feb. 7 will by carried by ESPNU. Other Furman games already announced for national television are Louisville (ACC Network Extra), North Carolina (ESPN2) and Mississippi State (SEC Network).

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Furman's second half defense shines

Making his first collegiate start, Micah Robinson helped Furman's
defense in a 42-20 win at Wofford. Photo courtesy of Furman

Not to be lost in the revival of Furman's offense in last Saturday's 42-20 win at Wofford is a Furman defense that overcame a couple of early busts to have another solid day. The Paladins allowed 314 total yards, but 135 of those came on the Terriers' two touchdowns.

Furman's defense has been at its best after halftime. After allowing just a field goal to Mercer in the second half of its Southern Conference opener on Sept. 25, the Paladins allowed just a field goal to Wofford in the second half last Saturday. While N.C. State was in total control and - to a lesser extent - so was Mercer by halftime, the fact remains that Furman has allowed a total of just 13 points in the second half over its last four games. For the season, the Paladins (3-2, 1-1) have outscored opponents 30-8 in the fourth quarter.

"Outside of those two plays and the long punt return where we missed tackles, the defense did a great job," Furman coach Clay Hendrix said. "As (defensive coordinator) Coach (Duane) Vaughn told them in a team meeting, 'at the the end of the day, those two plays count.' If there's one negative we've had (defensively), it's that we've allowed too many big plays. We're really close. It's one or two guys not being where they're supposed to be and we've got to fix that."

The defensive effort against Wofford came with two players making their first collegiate starts. Freshman Micah Robinson started at cornerback for Ivan Yates, who is out for the season with a hand injury, while freshman Caden Richards started at spur for the injured Dae'one Wilkins. Robinson had three tackles and two pass break-ups. Richards, a Gaffney native whose father played at Wofford, had four tackles.

Freshman cornerback Dominic Morris didn't start, but did make his first collegiate interception. Morris' pick early in the fourth quarter led to the Paladins' final touchdown to seal the game.

"Micah competes hard and it's really important to him," Hendrix said. "He's like a lot of our young guys. They're a work in progress and they just need to keep playing."

Yes, that was Devin Wynn nearly blocking punts

Devin Wynn nearly doubled his season rushing output with a 204-yard effort against Wofford. His 31 carries were the most in a game by a Paladin since Louis Ivory toted it 31 times against Western Kentucky 20 years ago. He also caught three passes for 43 yards, including a wide open 26-yard touchdown from the slot. All that added up to the third SoCon Offensive Player of the Week honor of his career.

What may have gone unnoticed with Wynn was the fact that it was the same No. 0 who was the closest Paladin to Wofford's punter on a couple of punts. Wynn stepped in on that team in place of Kam Brinson, who was out with an injury.

"Kam's been one of our better special teams players. ... It's all about getting your best out there in a position to help you succeed," Hendrix said. "Devin was on the kickoff team early in his career. I think Devin's a guy that wants to play at the next level. I think in that world now, that's something you need to be able to do."

Brinson is expected to return this week against Citadel and should make the start at strong safety in place of DiMarcus Clay. Clay is out for the first half after being ejected for targeting in the second half against Wofford.

SoCon's oldest rivalry under the lights

A week after resuming the South's actual oldest rivalry, it's the SoCon's oldest rivalry this week as Furman hosts Citadel at 6 p.m. It will be the 101st meeting between the rivals who first played in 1913 and who each joined the SoCon in 1936.

October 16 is the latest date for a Furman home night game ever and it will be the Paladins' first night game at Paladin Stadium since Sept. 17, 2016. There will be a postgame fireworks show.

Sheridan to be honored

Furman coaching legend Dick Sheridan will be honored by the school and the National Football Foundation at Saturday's game. He will be honored for his upcoming induction into the College Football Hall of Fame as a member of the 2020 class. It comes on the 39th anniversary of one of Sheridan's signature wins - a 28-23 victory at South Carolina on Oct. 16, 1982.

In addition to Saturday's ceremony, Sheridan will be on hand for the pregame coin toss. Former players and assistant coaches will accompany him for the toss. 

Sheridan, whose already in the Furman and South Carolina Athletic Halls of Fame, will be the first Paladin ever in the College Football Hall of Fame. The induction ceremony will be held at the NFF's 63rd annual awards dinner on Dec. 7 in Las Vegas.

Greenville News' stories

Links to some recent stories I've done for The Greenville News:

On Luke Shiflett's flexibility and sticking with Furman when things haven't gone as planned -

Recapping Furman's first win at Wofford since 2006 -

On Travis Blackshear's knack for getting to the football on defense -