|Furman All-American tight end Ryan Miller has 17 receptions for 180|
yards and two touchdowns this season. Photo courtesy of Furman
After opening the 2022 football season with a blowout win over a Division II opponent and a respectable loss at an FBS behemoth, it's FCS the rest of the way for Furman. Based on the Paladins' play the first two weeks, that "rest of the way" could grow but a loss Saturday would seriously weaken that idea. Furman's FCS opener is also its Southern Conference opener and it comes against reigning league champion East Tennessee State at 7:30 p.m.
The storyline entering this one is fairly obvious. After spending the past five seasons at his alma mater on Clay Hendrix's staff, George Quarles is the new head coach at ETSU. After helping Furman win the Division I-AA national championship in 1988, Quarles went on to become one of the greatest high school football coaches ever at Maryville (High) in Eastern Tennessee. Quarles got off to a 10-7 start at Maryville before going 240-9 - with 11 state championships - the rest of the way.
While Quarles knows plenty about the team he will be facing Saturday, Hendrix reminded folks that his staff has a new assistant who knows quite a bit about ETSU. Furman offensive line coach Matt McCutchan spent the previous four seasons coaching the Bucs' offensive front. Hendrix said nothing really changes all that much in preparing to face a former assistant.
"Defensively, they really haven't changed anything. Billy Taylor, their defensive coordinator, has been there a long time and does a great job," Hendrix said during his weekly press conference Monday. "Offensively, they're a spread team which is vastly different from what they were doing. Their offensive coordinator (Adam Neugebauer) actually followed (Furman offensive coordinator) Justin Roper at Slippery Rock.
"They have the preseason (SoCon) offensive player of the year at running back. The have a preseason all-conference quarterback, wide receiver, lineman, kick returner and kicker. So they've got good players. ... I'm sure we will get their best shot and that's a challenging place to go play."
It was a happy homecoming for Quarles, who is from Jefferson County, Tenn. - about halfway between Maryville and Johnson City, in ETSU's season opening win over Mars Hill. While the Buccaneers easily rolled to a 44-7 victory, the numbers didn't quite match the spread. Each team had 16 first downs and ETSU had 307 yards of total offense. The Bucs averaged just 3.0 yards per carry that night, thanks in part to allowing four sacks.
ETSU had a better showing statistically last Saturday at The Citadel, averaging 6.8 yards per carry and totaling 351 total yards despite only having possession of the ball for 20:44. But the Bulldogs, who were coming off a 29-10 loss at Campbell, made a field goal as time expired for a stunning 20-17 win. That loss plummeted the Bucs from No. 8 to No. 18 in this week's FCS Stats Perform (media) poll.
"In the first week, they had that team outmanned," Hendrix said. "Watching the tape from Saturday, they just made some crucial mistakes."
It was just another close SoCon game for the Bucs, who've played in a ton of one-score games in the league the past few seasons. That includes the Furman series, the last four of which have been decided by a total of 17 points.
The Paladins will try be just the second visiting team to win at ETSU's Greene Stadium at night. ETSU is 9-1 under the lights of its home stadium. They're also trying to be the first visiting team to win at ETSU since they did in the spring of 2021. That 17-13 victory was highlighted by Devin Wynn trucking a defender to his backside in the end zone on one of his two touchdown runs as Furman rallied from a 10-0 halftime deficit.
The Bucs avenged that loss in heartbreaking fashion for Furman last fall. After trailing 13-3 in the third quarter, ETSU rallied for a 17-13 win. The Bucs ended the game with a 14-play, 80-yard drive capped by a game-winning touchdown pass with nine seconds left.
"Offensively, we didn't give ourselves a chance to win that game. We should've put it away and not left it to the defense to finish it," Furman All-American tight end Ryan Miller said. "That was tough last year for sure. That one probably hurt the most.
"This year, it's a revenge game for us. ... We're going to go out there and play our hardest, do our best and hopefully come out with a victory."
- For notes from last Saturday's 35-12 loss at Clemson, click here.