Sunday, September 11, 2022

Paladins play great, but not enough for upset

Furman's Kam Brinson tackles Clemson's Antonio Williams Saturday. Brinson had three tackles,
an interception and a pass breakup in the Paladins' 35-12 loss. Photo courtesy of Furman

CLEMSON - Facing a big hill to climb at fourth-ranked Clemson Saturday, Furman possessed the ball for more than 21 minutes in the second half and outgained the Tigers by 100 yards after halftime.

And that strong effort yielded all of three points.

The Paladins put a lot of nice work in, but couldn't seem to catch a break or cash in on opportunities. Those factors and the outstanding play of literally the biggest other factor, Clemson's 6-foot-4, 235-pound quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei, added up to a 35-12 loss for Furman.

Furman (1-1) had no answer for the Tigers' heavily hyped and much maligned junior quarterback. He was simply too big for the Paladins to easily bring down. When he wasn't blitzed, Uiagalelei waited in the pocket before firing rockets to receivers, showing patience and precision - particularly on deep throws - that Clemson fans have clamored to see consistently.

"We had a chance to get him for negative yardage, but they kept popping plays. I knew we were going to miss some tackles, but I just thought we missed too many. ... Give the quarterback credit. He made some plays I wasn't sure he'd make. He was the difference in the whole thing," Furman coach Clay Hendrix said. "I thought we were in a great spot in the first half. We just didn't make enough plays and didn't get off the field on third down."

On the opening drive of the game, Furman forced a third-and-six and a third-and-five. On the first one, Uiagalelei threw a 40-yard strike to Beaux Collins over the middle. On the next one, he hit Joseph Ngata for 25 over the middle to set up a one-yard touchdown run by Will Shipley on the next play.

Clemson had a third-and-six on its next drive and Uiagalelei found Antonio Williams for a 19-yard gain to the Furman eight. It appeared that Jack Rhodes may have broken up the pass as the ball came bouncing out as Williams hit the ground, but a video review confirmed the call. Two plays later, Uiagalelei threw a two-yard touchdown pass to Jake Briningstool.

The most critical portion of the game came at the start of the second quarter. Furman was driving near midfield and despite being down 14-3, it felt like a touchdown could make things interesting. On second-and-one, Tyler Huff's pass to Ryan Miller resulted in no gain. On third-and-one, Huff made a shotgun handoff to Wayne Anderson who was coming in motion. Even the Paladins' fastest player couldn't reach the corner on Clemson's defense and he was dropped for a one-yard loss.

A 26-yard punt then set up the Tigers at their own 31. On a third-and-four, Uiagalelei found Davis Allen over the middle for a 23-yard gain. On a fourth-and-one, Uiagalelei simply bounced off a couple of tacklers for a three-yard gain to Furman's 28. On the next play, Micah Robinson seemingly did nothing to a Clemson receiver but was flagged for pass interference. Two plays later, Shipley ran for a 17-yard score to push the lead to 21-3.

While Uiagalelei was off to an 11-for-11 start passing, so was Huff. He led Furman's ensuing drive to the Clemson 28. That's when he connected with Miller for a 16-yard gain, but the ball popped free and the Tigers recovered at their own 10. It appeared that Miller never had full possession, but after video review the call stood.

"We were right there. We have three possessions down there and had to kick a field goal on one, jumped offsides on another where we didn't have the play called yet," Hendrix said. "Then we had Ryan's fumble, which I don't think was a fumble. ... That was one of those where it looked like he was going to run right out of that tackle for a score like he's done so many times."

Unfazed by the mishap on the previous drive, Miller took a slant pass on Furman's next drive and split the safeties for a 25-yard touchdown. But even the best of plays for the Paladins seemed to come with an asterisks Saturday as the extra point doinked off the left upright no good.

There was also the matter of 1:53 remaining in the first half. After taking the previous drive off - which resulted in a Clemson punt - Uiagalelei returned and marched his team 75 yards in 1:27 as the Tigers took a 28-9 lead into halftime.

"Their drive right before the half was huge," Hendrix said. "(Offensive coordinator) Justin (Roper) and I were already talking over there because I had leaving them too much time on my mind, but you've got to score."

Furman neared midfield on the opening drive after halftime, but Huff's only really bad pass ended the drive. His throw was towards two Paladin receivers who ended up right next to each other with quite a few Tigers surrounding them. The deflection was picked off. Five plays later, Uiagalelei tossed a perfect lob to Collins, who made an incredible catch along the sideline of the end zone to help extend the lead to 35-9.

Furman shut out the Tigers the rest of the way. Meanwhile, the Paladins reached Clemson territory on five of their last six possessions but could only come away with Axel Levreau's second field goal of the day. Furman's best chance for another touchdown ended when Dominic Roberto was stuffed for no gain on a fourth-and-goal shotgun handoff at the one.

For the game, the Paladins had a nine-and-a-half minute advantage in time of possession and outgained Clemson in total yards, 384-376. That's 147 more than Georgia Tech put up against the Tigers in Atlanta last Monday night. Furman also converted 10-of-18 third downs.

Uiagalelei completed 21-of-27 passes for 231 yards with two touchdowns and one interception off a tipped pass. He also had 36 yards rushing on five carries. Huff was 30-of-39 passing for 256 yards with a touchdown and an interception. He had 25 yards on nine carries.

"I'm glad Tyler Huff's on our team. Our offensive staff gave our guys a great opportunity to go execute against an unbelievable defensive front," Hendrix said. "We had our chances and our guys created those opportunities. It didn't look like we were out of our element."

Miller hauled in 13 passes for 95 yards and the touchdown. That tied the school record for most receptions in a game. In a 31-21 loss to Wofford in 1969, Byron Trotter also had 13 catches.

"They might be a little bigger, faster and stronger than us, but I think we showed we can play with these guys. We played great today, but shot ourselves in the foot too many times," Miller said. "I'm proud of what we accomplished today and it was exciting environment to play in. I'm honestly more excited about next week though, because that one means a lot."

Furman opens Southern Conference play at reigning league champion ETSU next Saturday at 7:30 p.m.

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