Saturday, October 29, 2022

Huff, Paladins take down No. 7 Chattanooga

Devin Abrams runs for a touchdown as Tyler Huff (6) celebrates during Furman's
24-20 win over No. 7 Chattanooga Saturday. Photo courtesy of Furman

In one of the biggest games Furman has hosted in years, the Paladins weren't perfect Saturday. They lost the turnover battle, dropped a snap on a field goal, didn't score for the final 29-plus minutes of the game, and had an 11-yard punt at a critical point in the fourth quarter.

What they did do was shut down Chattanooga's running game, made another huge play on special teams and got a terrific effort from quarterback Tyler Huff. That all added up to a 24-20 win over the seventh-ranked Mocs. With the win, No. 24 Furman (7-2, 5-1 Southern Conference) became the first FCS team to defeat Chattanooga (6-2, 4-1) this season.

"It's a great, great win for a program against a really good football team," Furman coach Clay Hendrix said. "I don't think a lot of people thought we could win, but we had a lot of confidence coming in. I thought our kids played that way all day.

"It took everybody. The defense came up with some big stops and the offense was able to score points against a team where points are hard to come by."

Running the ball and stopping the run are often the biggest keys to a game and that was the case Saturday, but that came with a twist. A showdown between the top two running backs in SoCon play didn't materialize. Chattanooga's Ailym Ford, who was averaging 140.5 yards rushing per game in league play, didn't make the trip following a physical game against Mercer last week. Furman's Dominic Roberto, who was averaging 124.4 yards against SoCon foes, was held to 22 yards on 10 carries.

The difference was Huff. Looking fully recovered from a dislocated elbow suffered five weeks earlier, Huff rushed for 132 yards on 20 carries. It's the most rushing yards Chattanooga has allowed to one individual since last October. Furman's 185 yards rushing are the most allowed by the Mocs this season.

Meanwhile, Furman's defense limited Ford's backup, Gino Appleberry to 56 yards on 22 carries. Chattanooga's 84 yards rushing as a team were its fewest in a game since the shortened spring season in 2021.

"I knew it wasn't going to come down to our back vs. their back. I told them in the team meeting last night that 'No. 6 (Huff) is going to get some carries tomorrow,' and boy am I glad he's on our team," Hendrix said. "He exemplifies our entire team."

Huff's running success helped open things up in the passing game and vice versa. He made the most of those opportunities as he completed 16-of-25 passes for 203 yards with one touchdown and one interception.

"If my front's (offensive line) not playing well, nothing else really matters and they balled out today," Huff said.

The biggest sequence in the game was sandwiched around halftime. After Devin Abrams scored from five yards out to give Furman a 14-10 lead with 6:46 left in the first half, the Paladins got the ball back with 3:12 left. Furman drove from its own 16 to the Chattanooga 19, but had to settle for a 30-yard field goal by Alex Lepvreau as time expired to take a 17-10 lead at the break.

Whatever good feeling Chattanooga had about forcing a field goal to end the first half quickly faded in the second. Kendall Thomas returned the second-half kickoff 26 yards to the Furman 40. On the first snap, Huff scrambled for a 30-yard gain. On the next one, he hit Ryan Miller for a 30-yard touchdown and Furman led 24-10 just 45 seconds into the second half.

"I probably threw it a little too far across the field, but Ryan made a great catch, broke two tackles and scored," Huff said. "To have three plays - a return and two offensive - to go score, I think that took the wind out of them."

The Mocs got a field goal late in the third quarter and a touchdown early in the fourth, but Furman's defense stood tall the rest of the way.

After that touchdown cut the lead to 24-20, Chattanooga's next drive began at Furman's 48 thanks to a leaping interception by the Mocs' All-American linebacker Ty Boeck. On fourth-and-one at the Paladins' seven-yard line, Chattanooga's 24-yard field goal attempt was blocked by Jack Barton. It's the third consecutive game that Furman has had a blocked kick or punt.

A Furman fourth down fiasco that resulted in an 11-yard punt started the Mocs next possession at the Paladins' 40-yard line with 3:13 left. Chattanooga's third-down pass was batted down by Barton. It's fourth-down pass was broken up by Cally Chizik.

"Those guys up front played good all day. Chattanooga wants to run the football and our line and linebackers have done a great job all year against the run," said Furman safety Hugh Ryan, who had an interception for the third consecutive game Saturday and also made seven tackles. "They stopped the run today and also got their hands on passes and just made some awesome plays. When they get their hands up in the passing lanes that only helps us in the backfield."

Furman's final possession began with 2:26 left, but Chattanooga still had all three timeouts. On third-and-nine, the Paladins made a gutsy call that saw Huff throw a perfect pass to Kyndel Dean along the left sideline for a gain of 17. The Mocs had no timeouts, but were still alive when Furman faced third-and-eight with 51 seconds left. Abrams put the final nail in the coffin though when he rumbled down the left sideline for 12 yards and Furman just needed one kneel down to seal the win.

"We made the call to give Tyler a chance to run it or throw it and man, what a great throw. Then Devin making that kind of run is a fun way to end it," Hendrix said. "We got a bunch that fights. They're smart, they're tough and they play well together.

"That's how you have games like this. That's how you go beat teams that are probably a lot more talented."

Friday, October 28, 2022

Furman set for showdown with Chattanooga

Wayne Anderson had a kickoff return for a touchdown in Furman's win over Western Carolina two
weeks ago and a blocked punt in the Paladins' win at VMI last week. Photo courtesy of Furman 

"Statement Saturday" has nearly arrived for Furman football. After making the FCS Stats Top 25 for the first time this week, the 24th-ranked Paladins will try to earn their first statement win of the season Saturday. That's when No. 7 Chattanooga visits Paladin Stadium for a 2 p.m. kickoff on homecoming.

Saturday will mark the highest-ranked team to visit Furman since 2018 when the Paladins topped sixth-ranked Wofford, 34-14. The Mocs (6-1, 4-0 Southern Conference) are coming off an impressive 41-21 win over Mercer, which dealt the Bears their first SoCon loss. Furman (6-2, 4-1) is coming off its fourth consecutive road win, and first blowout in FCS play, with a 41-3 victory at VMI. Chattanooga is sixth in this week's FCS Massey Ratings, while the Paladins are 19th.

"We've certainly got an ultra-talented and well-coached Chattanooga team coming in here. That's a pretty good combination," Furman coach Clay Hendrix said during his weekly press conference Monday. "They've had a heck of a year and coming off a heck of a win, but it's pretty exciting around here to have them coming to our place. It's been a while since we've had one like that here."

What's at stake Saturday:

  • A win should vault Furman up the rankings. It could move high enough to possibly withstand a close loss at Mercer two weeks later and stay in the FCS playoff conversation - depending on how other league games shake out. After the loss at Chattanooga, the Bears (6-2, 4-1) moved down five spots to No. 16 in the FCS Stats poll and down three spots to No. 9 in Massey.
  • A loss Saturday would likely knock Furman out of the top 25. A win at Mercer would probably put the Paladins back in the poll, but not necessarily the top 20. A victory over Wofford in the season finale would likely move Furman around the 20th spot.
The SoCon currently has three teams in Massey's top 11 as Samford is 11th. The Bulldogs (6-1, 4-0), who are No. 13 in the FCS Stats poll, play at The Citadel Saturday while Mercer travels to VMI. Furman and Mercer each have byes next week before they face off in Macon on Nov. 12. Also on Nov. 12, Chattanooga hosts Samford. Mercer plays at Samford in the regular season finale on Nov. 19.

Based on recent history of the FCS playoff selection committee, four SoCon teams aren't making the field. Three wouldn't even be a safe bet.

Hendrix briefly touched on some frustration with the polls. Furman has proven that it's still much harder to get in the poll than to get out. It was seemingly the first or second team among "others receiving votes" for many weeks before cracking the top 25 this week. Of particular note, Hendrix mentioned the rankings that followed Furman's 35-12 loss at Clemson.

After outgaining the Tigers 384-376, Furman went from 30th in FCS Stats (if the poll stretched into others receiving votes) to 37th the next week. Conversely, UT-Martin dropped from No. 18 to No. 21 this week after getting annihilated at Tennessee, 65-24, Saturday. The Skyhawks (4-3), who are No. 31 in Massey, trailed 58-7 less than two minutes into the third quarter.

"I think people got more credit for playing a bad, Division I non-scholarship team than we got for going and competing at Clemson the way we did," Hendrix said. "At the end of the day, it doesn't matter. We've put ourselves in a good position.

"If we can get it done, we will have gotten it done. If we can't get it done, then maybe they were all correct."

Back to things Furman can control. All of its focus is on this week and trying to come up with its first complete game in FCS competition this season. While the Paladins cruised to victory at VMI, they had 11 penalties. That's the most they've had in a game since 2013. Oddly enough, they knocked off Appalachian State 27-10 that day.

"We've got some things to clean up. We had a couple of frustration penalties and that's not who we are," Hendrix said. "We can't be that and we won't allow that. ... We'll have to play exceptionally well this week against this team."

Furman will definitely have to play better than its atrocious last meeting against the Mocs. Last fall, the Paladins were held to six first downs and had the ball for less than 21 minutes in a 13-3 loss at Chattanooga. Nearly a third of Furman's 151 yards of total offense that day came on one play - a 44-yard run by Devin Abrams.

"With five minutes to go, it was a one-possession game ... but we did absolutely nothing offensively the entire day," Hendrix said. "I think we're certainly a different team than we were a year ago, but they're significantly better offensively too."

Another defensive struggle could take place Saturday as the teams are first and second in the league in scoring defense. The Mocs rank eighth nationally surrendering 16.4 points per game, while the Paladins are 20th allowing 19.4 points per game. While Furman recorded its seventh fourth quarter shutout Saturday, Chattanooga has been even stingier in the final period. The Mocs have outscored opponents 62-3 in the fourth this season.

Saturday's game will also feature the two leading rushers in the SoCon during league play. Ailym Ford's averaging 140.5 yards per game and has six touchdowns in Chattanooga's four conference games, while Dominic Roberto is rushing for 124.4 yards and is averaging 8.1 yards per carry against SoCon foes. He also has six touchdowns in Furman's five league games. In his last 11 games dating back to last season, Roberto has rushed for 1,301 yards.

"I think we have a lot of the same philosophies on both sides of the ball. When you go to tackle Ford, you'd better bring a buddy with you. He's a hard guy to tackle and knock off his feet," Hendrix said. "Dom had two carries (against Chattanooga) a year ago. It was really after that game that we made the decision to 'get this guy involved.'

"Dom's always been a great worker and a great kid. ... For us, we've kind of figured out how to use him and that's continued under (new offensive coordinator) Coach (Justin) Roper."

Furman could have an edge in special teams, where it has excelled this season under new assistant Tommy Spangler. Two weeks ago, starting slot receiver Wayne Anderson had the Paladins first kickoff return for a touchdown since 2018. Last week, he had Furman's first blocked punt since 2018.

Ian Williams is third in the country with 36 touchbacks and he and Axel Lepvreau have combined to connect on 12-of-15 field goals. After averaging less than 19 yards per kickoff return each of the past three seasons, the Paladins are 12th nationally at 25.7 yards per return this year.

"A lot of credit goes to Coach Spangler and the culture he's created in that group," Hendrix said. "I've been really pleased with what we've done on special teams. Hopefully we can continue to build upon that because I think that will be a big part of this game too."

Sunday, October 23, 2022

Paladins party like it's 1999 in rout of VMI

Furman senior cornerback Travis Blackshear had a 41-yard interception return for a
touchdown in the Paladins' 41-3 win at VMI Saturday. Photo courtesy of Furman

LEXINGTON, Va. - One week after having what was shaping up to possibly be a "breather" turn downright scary in a 47-40 win over Western Carolina, Furman overcame a sluggish start and 11 penalties to have a true breather at VMI Saturday. Nine different ball carriers combined for 254 yards rushing and 10 different pass catchers helped the Paladins throw for 202 in a 41-3 win over the Keydets.

It's the fourth consecutive road victory for Furman (6-2, 4-1 Southern Conference). That last happened in 1999 when the Paladins posted wins at William & Mary (52-6), Western Carolina (27-19), The Citadel (31-17) and North Carolina (28-3). Saturday also marked the second time this season Furman held an opponent without a touchdown. The last time that happened more than once in a season was also that 1999 SoCon championship squad, which did it four times.

"We've played eight straight games, five of those on the road, so we knew coming here would bring its own challenges. We had a good week of prep and had the chance to play a ton of guys. I was disappointed in the penalties, that we've got to get cleaned up," Furman coach Clay Hendrix said. "They threw a bunch of different stuff at us and it took a little bit of time to get adjusted, but we didn't panic."

The first quarter-plus of game play was about as bland as the beige backdrops at Foster Stadium. Despite having a target on Dominic Roberto's back following his 252-yard rushing day last Saturday, it was Roberto that popped the cork on what turned out to be a flurry of energy for Furman.

Similar to last week's opening play for Furman, Roberto took a handoff to the right and rumbled 57 yards for a touchdown four minutes into the second quarter. Devin Abrams made a beautiful block to spring the run that pushed Furman's lead to 10-0.

After a three-and-out on VMI's ensuing possession, Furman's do-everything man Wayne Anderson came right up the gut on the Keydets' punt and blocked it. Anderson raced to his left to scoop up the punt at the nine-yard line and returned it to the VMI two. It was yet another big play from Furman's special teams this season and another one for Anderson, who had a 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown last Saturday.

"We weren't really expecting to block one today because they have a really good punt team, but we found a crease. Credit to the guys out there with me ... even though I know they're all going to say I suck for not scoring on it," Anderson said with a smile. "Whether its running back, receiver, punt returner, punt (coverage), kick returner or wherever I need to go, I'm just happy the coaches have faith in me to be out there."

On the next play, Furman came out in what looked to be a bunch formation except for quarterback Tyler Huff lining up at a wide receiver spot on the left. Receiver Luke Shiflett took the shotgun snap and ran for the score behind a lead block by linebacker Braden Gilby to make it 17-0. Shiflett was flanked by Gilby on the left and Roberto on the right in the two-back set.

"We just try to get our best bodies in there," Hendrix said of Gilby being in on offense. "It's good to find different ways to punch it in."

VMI got on the board on its next possession with a field goal, but Furman answered that three with another seven. After Huff threw a 34-yard pass to Joshua Harris deep over the middle, he hit a wide-open Ryan Miller on a play-action pass for an 11-yard touchdown to give Furman a 24-3 lead with 5:10 left in the first half.

"Being up 3-0, it felt like you were down 10. We just weren't finishing drives and were frustrated, so when Dom popped that (57-yard touchdown) the whole mentality changed," said Huff, who completed 18-of-25 passes for 195 yards with no interceptions. "We had a sour taste in our mouth from last week. We were up 44-20 and should've put the game away offensively ... so coming out here and getting a blowout feels great. It gives us confidence going into a big game next week."

On the second play of the fourth quarter, Kendall Thomas ran for an 18-yard touchdown. His first collegiate rushing score helped push the Furman lead to 34-3. Two plays later, Travis Blackshear put the cherry on to with a 41-yard interception return for a touchdown.

After allowing its first points all season in the fourth quarter last week when Western Carolina erupted for three touchdowns, the Paladins were able to keep VMI (1-6, 0-4) off the scoreboard while emptying the bench in the final quarter.

Gilby and Evan DiMaggio had nine tackles apiece to lead Furman's defense. Xavier Stephens, a Lehigh transfer from nearby Roanoke, Va., had a key sack and a pass breakup on the same series. Furman had four sacks and nine tackles-for-loss as a team. The Paladins had two interceptions as Hugh Ryan captured his team-high third pick in the first quarter

"I was just waiting for that moment. I finally got my first interception of the season and had daylight all the way on the return," said Blackshear. "We didn't play to the standard that we normally play to (last Saturday). The emphasis this week was to get back to who we are. We all had a good week of preparation."

Roberto finished with 104 yards on just eight carries to lead Furman's rushing attack. Abrams had 60 yards on 11 attempts, Thomas had 35 yards on five carries, freshman Grant Robinson ran for 29 yards on six carries and freshman Jayquan Smith made his collegiate debut with 21 yards on four attempts.

Also making his collegiate debut was new No. 2 quarterback Carson Jones. With Furman playing it safe and just running out the clock, Jones completed all three of his passes for seven yards and rushed once for six yards. Miller finished with 71 yards on five receptions.

Furman will host Chattanooga in a SoCon showdown next Saturday at 2 p.m. The Mocs (6-1, 4-0) handed Mercer its first league loss Saturday and are tied atop the league standings with Samford (6-1, 4-0). The Paladins and Bears (6-2, 4-1) are tied for second.

"We're where we want to be. We've got nobody to worry about but ourselves," said Hendrix. "We just need to go have a great week of prep."

Friday, October 21, 2022

Paladins' defense looks for redemption at VMI

Defensive tackle Matt Sochovka (7) earned SoCon Special Teams Player of the Week after blocking a
field goal and an extra point in Furman's 47-40 win over Western Carolina. Photo courtesy of Furman

One week after getting torched by Western Carolina's starting and backup quarterbacks, Furman's defense will try to get back on track against another traditionally pass-happy offense at VMI Saturday at 1:30 p.m.

In last Saturday's 47-40 win over the Catamounts, the Paladins (5-2, 3-1 Southern Conference) allowed Western's Carlos Davis to throw for 209 yards and two touchdowns on 18-of-27 passing and rush for 104 yards on 11 carries. After Davis was knocked out of the game following a big hit from Braden Gilby early in the third quarter, Cole Gonzales came on and completed 12-of-16 passes for 252 yards and two touchdowns over his five possessions.

After Furman took a 27-10 lead with less than six minutes left in the first half, the Catamounts' scoring drives respectively lasted: 0:12, 1:38, 3:04, 0:31 and 0:08. A Paladin defense that had not allowed a point in the final quarter all season gave up 20 in the fourth last Saturday. Western's last two touchdown passes came on bombs where its receiver beat the corner one-on-one and there was no safety in sight. Coach Clay Hendrix bemoaned a lack of execution, rather than a lack of planning.

"We were in a base defense and when you're in that, you're trying to prevent deep balls. On the second one, our corner was 10 yards off the receiver when the ball was snapped. Would you tweak a call here and there? Yeah, but we'd been in base defense all day," Hendrix said during his weekly press conference Tuesday. "It's not like we haven't had deep balls thrown against us this year. All of a sudden, we acted like they were some ultra-talented group that we hadn't seen all day. We just didn't execute very well.

"The disappointing thing to me for the whole day was the lack of pressure. We didn't have any sacks and didn't get a lot of hits on their quarterbacks. We've got to be better than that and we have been."

Furman won't be facing quite as potent an offense this week. With its former quarterback-receiver duo of Reece Udinski and Jakob Herres shining two hours away at 19th-ranked Richmond this season, VMI (1-5, 0-3) is actually in the middle of the pack passing-wise in the SoCon. The Keydets rank fifth in the league at 202 passing yards per game. 0.6 yards ahead of Furman.

Four different quarterbacks have taken snaps for VMI this season and three have thrown at least 20 passes. They've combined for five touchdowns and nine interceptions. The Keydets may have thrown more than they wanted this year because of their struggles running the ball. Only four FCS teams average less than VMI's 76 yards per game on the ground. The Keydets are averaging 2.35 yards per carry.

"A lot of the touchdowns we've given up this season are 50-plus yards. That's something (defensive coordinator) Coach (Duane) Vaughn's been harping on," said Furman linebacker Bryce McCormick, whose third on the team with 36 tackles this season. "We've got to kill those plays. As we go down the stretch of the SoCon, if we limit those we'll be pretty solid."

Wilson elects to redshirt

Furman backup quarterback Jace Wilson is longer the backup. True freshman Carson Jones is now No. 2 on the depth charter behind starter Tyler Huff after Hendrix said that Wilson decided to redshirt this season. By redshirting after appearing in just four games this year, Wilson will not lose this year of playing eligibility at Furman or wherever in the future.

"That's a decision he made right before the Citadel game and we've moved on," Hendrix said. "He'd made no indication about leaving other than he wanted to redshirt.

"We've been prepping Carson all season and I've been really pleased with his development. We think he has a bright future here."

How quickly things can change. Wilson, who went 4-2 as a starter last fall as a freshman, came off the bench to help Furman win at Charleston Southern after Huff was injured on Sept. 24. Wilson started the following week against Samford and broke the school record for completions in a single game (38), but the Paladins lost, 34-27. As Huff was set to return to the starting lineup the next week at The Citadel, Wilson informed Hendrix that his season was over.

Jones has yet to make his collegiate debut. With four games remaining in the regular season, Jones could see playing time and still be able to redshirt this season.

Roberto, Sochovka honored

After rushing for a career-high 252 yards, Dominic Roberto was named the FCS Stats Perform National Offensive Player of the Week as well as the SoCon Offensive Player of the Week. For more on Roberto, here's a story I wrote on him for The Greenville News this week:

Roberto's current teammate and former teammate at Pine Forest High in Fayetteville, N.C., Matt Sochovka, earned SoCon Special Teams Player of the Week also this week. Sochovka blocked an extra point and a field goal last Saturday and had another blocked extra point wiped out by a controversial roughing the snapper penalty. The graduated defensive tackle is believed to be Furman's first non-kicker, non-punter or non-returner to earn the league's weekly special teams award.

"Credit to Matt on his effort and toughness," Hendrix said. "He just embodies that in everything he does."

Sunday, October 16, 2022

Roberto runs wild, Furman hangs on for win

Dominic Roberto rushed for 252 yards and had three touchdowns in Furman's
47-40 win over Western Carolina Saturday. Photo courtesy of Furman

In 117 seasons of football, Furman allowed more yards than it ever has Saturday as Western Carolina finished with a total of 691.

Fortunately for the Paladins, it wasn't 696.

The Catamounts final play of the game somehow wasn't a throw to the end zone. Instead, Censere Lee made a leaping 21-yard catch but was tackled immediately by Ivan Yates at the five-yard line and Furman held on for a 47-40 win before a crowd of 9,617 at Paladin Stadium. On a day in which Dominic Roberto ran for 252 yards, the Paladins withstood a 20-0 run fourth quarter run by Western to improve to 5-2 overall and 3-1 in the Southern Conference.

"It was a really similar game to a year ago when we didn't get it done, so I'm thrilled with the win. We're going to celebrate wins around here," Furman coach Clay Hendrix said. "When we go back to work tomorrow, there's certainly things we have to do better. I'm obviously disappointed in what seems to be a little bit of a trend of 'what can we do to beat ourselves?' Obviously, the big plays and deep balls. It's just all fixable stuff."

After rushing for a total of 300 yards over Furman's first five games this season, Roberto seemed to get back to his "second half of the 2021 season" form last Saturday at The Citadel with 133 yards and two touchdowns. On this Saturday, he picked up from where he left off last season against the Catamounts when he ran for 196 yards and four touchdowns.

Following a blocked field goal by Matt Sochovka that ended Western's opening drive, Furman's first drive started with a defensive holding flag. On the Paladins' first official play on offense, Roberto took a handoff to his right and raced untouched for a 62-yard touchdown. It's the third consecutive game that Furman scored a touchdown on its opening possession.

Late in the first quarter, Tyler Huff faked a handoff to Roberto before firing a perfect pass to Roberto on a wheel route for a 20-yard touchdown pass as the Paladins regained the lead at 14-7.

"You could put any back in that situation and they'd catch the ball and score," Roberto said. "That's just what we bring to the table as a running back group."

Entering Saturday, only one FCS team had lost more turnovers than the Catamounts this season and no team had forced more than the Paladins. After a turnover-free opening quarter, that trend showed up on the first play of the second quarter when Furman's Hugh Ryan intercepted Carlos Davis' pass at midfield and returned it to the Western 11-yard line. Four plays later, Roberto scored his third touchdown from a yard out.

With less than six minutes left in the opening half, the Paladins pushed the lead to 27-10 when Huff found Ryan Miller for a 13-yard touchdown. The Catamounts answered quickly when Davis hit David White on a 75-yard touchdown.

After Furman saw its six-game streak of scoring on its final possession of the first half snapped last week in Charleston, it appeared the Paladins were set to start a new one. But after a third-and-two handoff up the middle to Devin Abrams - who was the lone running back in a shotgun set - gained just one yard, Roberto was ruled short after a measurement following his fourth-and-one direct snap to him in the wildcat formation.

"That was disappointing, because I thought we had a chance to score there," Hendrix said. "I'm interested to see that spot. I couldn't even get them to review it."

Bad spot or not, it's troubling that a Furman team that ran for 426 yards Saturday could not clearly get two in two tries. With just 1:38 left in the half, Western drove to the Paladins' three-yard line after Davis' 18-yard run. On third-and-goal at the four, Furman's Jack Barton made a huge stop when he dropped Davis for a six-yard loss. The Catamounts cut the lead to 27-20 at the half on a field goal as time expired.

After Western took all the momentum into halftime, Wayne Anderson snatched it right back when he returned the second-half kickoff 97 yards untouched for a touchdown. It's the first kick return for a touchdown for Furman since Dejuan Bell also had a 97-yard return, also at home, also against the Catamounts four years ago.

"I kind of knew during the first return that it was going to be one of those days (for a big return)," Anderson said. "We just set it up with the first two, to come back to the left side. We kind of knew that most of their players were going to go to the right. Credit to everybody today, because it's kind of been like 'one block away' all year."

Late in the third quarter, Furman was pinned at its own six-yard line to start a drive. Roberto popped a 32-yard run on the first play, and rumbled 48 on the next. That set up another play action touchdown pass when Huff connected with Miller on a 14-yard score as Furman pushed its lead to 44-20.

Entering Saturday, the third quarter was the only one in which Furman had not outscored its opponent. But after that 17-0 showing, that's no longer the case. In addition to being shut out that quarter, Western also lost its starting quarterback when Davis took a hard hit from Braden Gilby on a third-down incompletion just two-and-a-half minutes into the half. Davis, who had not been running much since suffering a shoulder injury at Georgia Tech on Sept. 10, departed with 209 yards on 18-of-27 passing and 104 yards rushing on 11 attempts.

"He was a totally different guy today than he'd been in a month. He never wanted to run (during that time), but today he was committed to that and we didn't have an answer for him," Hendrix said. "We weren't pressuring him and we weren't tackling him either."

So with a 24-point lead, Western's backup quarterback in and going to the quarter that Furman has dominated this season, there had to be a pretty comfortable feeling for the Paladins. But that didn't last as visions of last year's game when the Catamounts rallied from a 42-31 deficit for a 43-42 win likely crept in.

Western became the first opponent to score against Furman in the fourth quarter this season when T.J. Jones had a nine-yard touchdown run with 12:42 left. The Paladins' ensuing possession ended on a punt after a one-yard run by Kendall Thomas on third-and-10. On the Catamounts' second play of its next drive, freshman Cole Gonzales threw a 42-yard touchdown pass to Censere Lee as Western cut the lead to 44-34 with 7:54 left.

The Catamounts (3-4, 1-3) still really had no answer for Furman's rushing attack, so the Paladins went to it on their next possession with nothing but handoffs to Roberto and Abrams. After nine turnovers the previous three games, Furman didn't suffer one Saturday until Roberto had the ball knocked loose and the Catamounts recovered at their own 31. While it obviously wasn't the result the Paladins wanted, they did shave five-and-a-half minutes off the clock and still had a 10-point lead with 2:26 left.

Well, eight seconds later it was no longer a two-score game. That's how long it took for Gonzales and Lee to connect on a 69-yard touchdown pass which basically looked just like the last one - single coverage with no safety in sight. Sochovka had yet another blocked kick on the PAT and Furman led 44-40 with 2:18 left.

"The other guy came in and did a good job, but we just let him throw it down the field over our heads. That's certainly disappointing, but our kids hung in there," Hendrix said. "I thought special teams might have been the difference in the game."

Western's onside kick took one bounce right to Travis Blackshear, who returned it to the Catamounts' 25. After Western used its last timeout, Huff inexplicably threw the ball away on a busted play on third-and-five stopping the clock again. Ian Williams' 37-yard field goal doinked off the left upright, but went through to extend the lead to 47-40 with 1:07 left.

The Catamounts got 19 yards on a third-and-20 play, then 14 on fourth-and-one before a pass interference penalty on Furman set up Western at the 26-yard line for the final play of the game. In his five possessions on the field, Gonzales finished with 253 yards on 12-of-16 passing.

"On both sides of the ball, we've got guys that are trying hard. We've just got to play smarter," Hendrix said. "This will be a great tape to learn from. ... They're a pretty talented group and I knew there'd be some tough matchups, but control what you can control. Do your job and if we do that, we're okay. We didn't do that enough today."

Western's total yardage broke the previous record by a Furman opponent set by LSU (672 yards) in 2013. Of the top 10 on that list of opponents' total yards, the Paladins' only other win came in a 40-35 victory at Chattanooga (618 yards) in 1999.

Roberto's 252-yard rushing day in the third-highest single game total in school history. Only Louis Ivory (301 against Georgia Southern in 2000) and Mike Glenn (261 against Presbyterian in 1980) had more. Abrams finished with 92 yards on 19 carries, while Huff ran eight times for 63 yards.

"It's always satisfying to get the ball and see three different holes to pick from," Roberto said "Credit to our offensive line because I wasn't getting touched until the second or third level most of the time."

Furman travels to VMI next Saturday for a 1:30 p.m. kickoff.

Friday, October 14, 2022

Paladins look to ascend from middle of SoCon

Furman linebacker Braden Gilby had 12 tackles, including three tackles-for-loss
and a sack, in the Paladins' 21-10 win at The Citadel. Photo courtesy of Furman

At the midway point of the college football season, the Southern Conference appears to be split into three sections of three. The unbeaten in league play trio of Chattanooga, Mercer and Samford at the top; Furman, Western Carolina and ETSU in the middle; and The Citadel, VMI and Wofford at the bottom.

Yes, Citadel beat ETSU head-to-head but the Buccaneers scored more points Saturday at VMI (44) than the Bulldogs have all season (40). ETSU is also 14 spots higher than Citadel's 56th ranking in the latest Massey Ratings, so it gets lumped in the middle.

There are actually four SoCon teams in Massey's top 20 as Mercer is eighth, Chattanooga 10th, Samford 14th and Furman 19th. Furman has the chance to stake its spot in that top tier with games against Chattanooga and Mercer down the road, but first it must position itself to do so. That begins Saturday against Western Carolina at Paladin Stadium at 2 p.m.

The Paladins (4-2, 2-1) will be looking to avenge a heartbreaking loss in Cullowhee, N.C. last season when the Catamounts rallied from an 11-point fourth quarter deficit for a 43-42 win. Dominic Roberto rushed for 196 yards that day, but it marked just the second loss in 30 games when the Paladins had a rusher go for at least 175 yards. The only other defeat occurred in 2000 when Louis Ivory ran for 227 yards in a 23-21 loss at ETSU.

"The thing that stood out in that game a year ago was too many big plays (given up) on defense and offensively, we moved the ball really well but didn't score a point in the fourth quarter," Furman coach Clay Hendrix said during his weekly press conference Monday. "When you pull the tape measure out, they're a really talented group. They've got height, weight and speed in a lot of places.

"We will have to tackle really well Saturday. Offensively, we will have to find a way to stay on the field and score. ... We still need to find a way to score more points."

Western (3-3, 1-2) leads the SoCon in total offense at 499.7 yards per game, but was held to half that (249 total yards) in a 49-6 loss at Mercer last Saturday. The Catamounts haven't found the end zone in two league road games this season as it was held to four field goals - despite 456 yards of total offense - in a 35-12 loss at Samford on Sept. 24.

Turnovers could be a major factor Saturday. Only one FCS team in the country has lost more turnovers than Western's 18 and no team in the country has forced more turnovers than Furman's 16.

"All offseason and camp, we've really put on emphasis on attacking the ball," said linebacker Braden Gilby, who leads the Paladins in tackles (36) and tackles-for-loss (7). "In practice, older guys will get on younger guys if they're not punching at the ball while tackling. It's an accountability thing."

On the flip side of the turnover conversation, Furman's offense will try to stop its own trend of losing the football. After three turnovers over the first three games this season, the Paladins have lost nine over the past three.

In his first game back since dislocating his left elbow at Charleston Southern two weeks earlier, Furman starting quarterback Tyler Huff had trouble with deep throws on a windy day at Citadel last Saturday. While he completed 14-of-19 passes for 113 yards, Huff had two interceptions. With the wind at his back in the first quarter, Huff was picked off on an overthrown ball intended for Ryan Miller. Late in the second quarter, Huff was pressured and a pass off his back foot to Miller was underthrown and picked off.

"It was good to be back in there. I was frustrated with being injured, but Jace (Wilson) came in and played a great game last week," Huff said. "I'm a little frustrated in how I've played. I feel like I'm holding us back these past two games (Charleston Southern and Citadel) with two turnovers in each. Coach Hendrix and Coach (Justin) Roper have harped on eliminating turnovers and I haven't done that.

"I'm excited by what Coach Roper has for us and he's done an excellent job teaching the QBs. It just comes down to me doing what he's taught me."

Furman played it safe with Huff back in the lineup as it used no quarterback runs, which has been a valuable weapon when Huff has been at full strength. Hendrix said he hopes to get back to more of that moving forward.

"I think a lot of people have to got to remember that Tyler's played about three-and-a-half games in a year-and-a-half. He started so well this year, I think expectations took off," Huff said. "I know there's some things he wants to do better and I think we will do better."

Streaks end, extend

That second quarter interception ended a streak of Furman scoring on its final (non-kneel down) possession of the first half in six consecutive games dating back to last season's finale. Five of those six scores were touchdowns as the other was an 18-yard field goal with Furman comfortably ahead of North Greenville in this year's season opener.

Miller also saw his streak of eight consecutive games with a touchdown catch end as the Paladins did not have a passing touchdown at Citadel. It looked like that streak might have been extended on the game's opening drive as Miller lunged forward with the ball in his right hand crossing the goal line, but he was ruled down at the two-yard line and there was somehow no review.

That set up a new wrinkle on offense on the next play though when Devin Abrams took a direct shotgun snap and carried for a two-yard score. Abrams was flanked by third-string tight end Ty Youngblood on his left and freshman tailback Myion Hicks on his right.

"You try to do something where it's hard to account for all those guys (tight ends and backs in the set)," Hendrix said. "Myion Hicks made a great block at the point of attack. That young guy is going to be a really good player for us. Being able to get it in there (the end zone) on the first try was nice."

Furman did extend one streak Saturday as its defense remained unscored on in the fourth quarter this year. The Paladins have outscored opponents 31-0 in the final period for the season.

Kickoff coverage excels

With Ian Williams' ranking fourth in the country with 25 touchbacks, Furman's kickoff unit has had a pretty quiet job all year. But when called on Saturday, it answered the bell. Williams kicked off into a stiff breeze three times in the third quarter. Every time, Citadel's return was short of the 25-yard line it would've had on a fair catch or touchback.

Opening the second half, the Bulldogs had a 10-yard return from the goal line and an illegal block in the back began the possession at their five-yard line. They had a 19-yard return to the 22-yard line on the next kickoff. Williams' last kick appeared to be headed out of bounds, but the ball took one hop straight up along the sideline at the 15-yard line and was fallen on there by Citadel.

"We made a concerted effort to kick into the wind in the third quarter, because we wanted the wind in the fourth. I think Ian's disappointed (in not getting touchbacks there), but it really created better field position for us," Hendrix said. "We always tell them you can't get complacent about covering kicks just because we assume he's going to kick it in the end zone every time."

Saturday, October 8, 2022

Roberto runs Paladins past Citadel

Dominic Roberto (8) rushed for 133 yards and two touchdowns in Furman's
21-10 win at The Citadel Saturday. Photo courtesy of Furman

CHARLESTON - For the first time since last season, Furman didn't score on its final possession of the first half Saturday. But on this day, the Paladins showed the halftime momentum can be overrated. Furman's defense forced two turnovers in the third quarter, Dominic Roberto turned those into touchdowns, and the Paladins went on to a 21-10 win at The Citadel.

Furman (4-2, 2-1 Southern Conference) improves to 62-37-3 all-time in the SoCon's oldest rivalry, with just its second win in Charleston over the last nine years.

"This is 29 of these (games against Citadel) for me and they've all seemed to be hard. I knew this one would be to," Furman coach Clay Hendrix said. "I'm just really proud of our team and how we prepared. Man, we played really well defensively if you take away some of those third down completions I would've rather been better at. ... It's always good to come here and get a win."

Two weeks after suffering a dislocated elbow at Charleston Southern, Furman starting quarterback Tyler Huff returned to the starting lineup Saturday. He and Roberto guided the Paladins down the field on the opening possession, which Devin Abrams capped with a two-yard touchdown run after taking a direct shotgun snap.

On a windy Saturday, Huff had issues throwing deep. Furman's offense sputtered after that opening drive, but came to life again in the two-minute drill, like it always seems to do. The Paladins had scored on each of its final (non-kneel down) drives, including five touchdowns, over its previous six games dating back to last year's season finale.

With 3:12 left in the first half and going into the wind, Furman drove from its own 25 to the Citadel 29. But Huff's throw to Ryan Miller near the end zone was underthrown. The Bulldogs' Destin Mack intercepted the pass with 51 seconds left in the half and Furman settled for a 7-3 lead at the break.

Entering Saturday, the third quarter was the only one that the Paladins had been outscored in all season, 38-17. That included a 14-0 showing by Samford last week after Furman had cut the lead to 20-17 at the half. With Citadel getting the ball to start the second half and the wind at its back, there had to be some concern for the Paladins.

That concern only had to grow after awful coverage on the Bulldogs' first third down of the second half, which resulted in a 29-yard pass to a wide open receiver. But on Citadel's next third down, Furman's defense went back to its calling card this season. Travis Blackshear blew up the Bulldogs' play stopping the running back 10 yards behind the line of scrimmage. More importantly, he forced a fumble that Bryce Stanfield recovered at the Citadel's 32-yard line.

Two plays later, Roberto rumbled 26 yards for a touchdown.

"It all starts with preparation. We all had good practices this week. On that specific play, I read my keys and had the green light to go," Blackshear said. "I just had to make a play and I was glad I helped get the ball back to the offense. Getting a touchdown right after that was a big spike in the game."

On Citadel's next third down, Furman's dynamic duo of turnovers did it again as Jalen Miller forced a fumble that Kam Brinson recovered and returned eight yards to Citadel's 19. It's the third time in the last four games that Miller and Brinson have teamed up on a turnover. On the next play, Roberto rumbled for 14 yards and then carried dudes into the end zone on the next snap as Furman pushed its lead to 21-3.

Those turnovers came after not getting one in the first half for a Furman defense that entered Saturday with the second-most turnovers in the country at 14.

After snapping a nine-quarter scoreless streak with a second quarter field goal, Citadel (1-4, 1-2) snapped an 11-quarter touchdown drought with a 26-yard pass from Ahmad Green to Ricky Conway. Green was nearly sacked two steps into his drop back, but he got away and floated the pass over three Furman defenders to Conway in the back of the end zone.

The Bulldogs had three more possessions the rest of the way, but never sniffed Furman territory as the Paladins kept their fourth quarter shutout streak intact. Furman has outscored opponents 31-0 in the final quarter this season. While Citadel hit 13-of-26 passes for 169 yards, it's rushing attack was held to 107 yards on 41 attempts, for an average of 2.6 per carry.

"The option run for linebackers is really just downhill. We get to play the run, which we like doing. You don't really have pass responsibilities, so you're free for lots of tackles," said Braden Gilby, who had a game-high 12 tackles, including three for loss and a sack. "We've been forcing turnovers all season and I just had faith that they were coming."

With a brace on his left arm, Huff was in more of a game-manager mode and there were no runs for him Saturday. The was especially true in the second half as he attempted just three passes. He finished with 110 yards on 13-of-18 passing.

"He's a tough kid and I think he managed it well," Hendrix said. "I think we'll get back to trying to continue to let him use his feet when we can."

Roberto turned in the kind of performance that was reminiscent of the second half of his 2021 season as he finished with 133 yards on 18 carries. Furman had more two back sets than its had all year Saturday and that extra hat in for blocking, which was typically Abrams, seemed to create more holes.

"Coming out of halftime, the thought was that we could run it down their throat every single down. I think that's what we did," Roberto said. "It's good to get in a rhythm and get some bigger chunks of yards again. It's definitely a confidence booster."

Furman returns home to host Western Carolina next Saturday at 2 p.m.

Wednesday, October 5, 2022

SoCon calls errors significant; Dins move on

Furman coach Clay Hendrix Photo courtesy of Furman

Less than 48 hours after a bizarre officiating sequence that proved to be a pivotal part of Furman's 34-27 loss to Samford, the Southern Conference released a statement Monday morning acknowledging that mistakes were made. The statement, which was distributed to media outlets and posted by the league on its social media platforms, read:

"After review of a play in question during the Furman-Samford football game on Oct. 1, the Southern Conference’s coordinator of officials believes there were significant errors in the officials’ approach and final ruling. The conference has enacted disciplinary measures for the officials and will have no further comment on the matter."

Video replays of the play in question show Furman's Ivan Yates making an interception early in the second quarter. That should've given the Paladins, who were leading 10-0 at the time, the ball at Samford's 26-yard line. After a 14-minute delay consisting of two reviews and lengthy discussions with coaches, the Bulldogs retained possession and went on a 20-0 scoring run over the next six-and-a-half minutes.

For more on the play, here's the link to my recap of the game: For those that subscribe the ESPN+, the sequence runs from about the 48-minute mark to 1:02 on the game's television broadcast.

A couple of hours after the statement was released, Furman coach Clay Hendrix held his weekly press conference. Hendrix said he could not recall the SoCon ever releasing a statement of this nature before. He praised the league's response and said his team had moved on, but he did answer questions about the incident.

"They've (SoCon) been great in communication with us since Saturday. I know what happened and what's been done, but we will leave it at that. ... I don't know what else they can do," Hendrix said. "There was a statement made that there was a forward progress stoppage, which was impossible on that play. That's where it all started. It was a really, really, really bad call. ... A stoppage of forward progress can't be reviewed. That's (the second review) what should've never happened. There was never a catch made and never possession. You can't have forward progress without that.

"There were certainly some unusual circumstances, but it's a loss we own. We didn't respond well. We had every opportunity to make plays on both sides of the ball and we didn't do enough of them. Give Samford credit."

Outside of the bad call in general, a big part of the absurd nature of the sequence was the 14-minute delay. Contrast what happened Saturday with Major League Baseball's rules involving replay. Under those rules, things would've gotten back to normal after the initial video review and Samford coach Chris Hatcher would not have been allowed to argue about it.

The delay, and uncertainty about what exactly was going on during it, was a problem.

"I look back at what I could've done differently. I even thought about grabbing (strength coach) Andre Bernardi and re-warming up our guys, but we were told we were getting the ball then told we weren't," Hendrix said. "Should I have walked across the field when the long conversation was going on after the (first) review, which I couldn't understand why it was happening? I don't know."

Heading back to Charleston

Making a road trip to face your oldest SoCon rival should help Furman refocus and turn the page from Saturday's chaos. After a win at Charleston Southern two weeks ago, the Paladins head back down I-26 this week to take on The Citadel at 2 p.m. Saturday.

In past years, facing the Bulldogs' style of run-heavy, option offense was something Furman would have to practice for a few weeks each season during league play. These days, Citadel is about the only team left that still does it.

"We used to do some of that offense too, so our defense would see it some then. It's certainly a challenge and I learned a long time ago, you'd better not try to figure it out in a week," Hendrix said. "We've been doing a little drill work on Sundays where we work on option responsibility stuff. I think our coaches are really comfortable and experienced (preparing for it).

"This is one of those weeks you've got to embrace. It tests your will a little bit. If you're a pass rusher, good luck getting opportunities this week. There's double teams and there's not a lot of nice stuff about it. ... And you've got to be great in the back half (of the defense), because you get so in tune with what's going on they raise up and throw one over your head."

Hendrix spent part of the opening portion of his press conference reflecting on Saturday's loss, but also on a broader, deeper thought. It was one concerning the overall state of Furman's program and the challenges it faces in how it has to go about winning in this day and age of college football.

"This is my 29th year as part of the program. We've been fortunate to win a lot of games and have a lot of success. I don't mean this in a negative way, but I don't think we've ever won tons of games around here by out-talenting people. We're not going to do that now. We have some talented players, but we're just not going to out-talent people," Hendrix said. "It's the nature of the world and it's the nature of our school as to who our pool of players is to recruit. I heartily embrace that and what our guys are about."

Hendrix said his team has to play with the mindset of "doing common tasks uncommonly well," and he said they're currently not doing those things. He said they're doing some really good things on defense, but have to stop giving up big plays. He added that the Paladins must tackle better.

"Do I expect us to make every tackle? Absolutely not, but we're better than we've done," Hendrix said. "Offensively, we're not getting enough production out of the number of plays we've had. We haven't been nearly good enough in the red zone scoring touchdowns and turnovers have killed us the last two weeks.

"We don't live in the transfer world. We're not renting players for the fall semester. ... We're not going to do that here. I love our guys and have a lot of confidence in them and our staff, but those are things we've got to do better going forward. ... Our kids are playing hard. If they're not doing that, none of this other stuff matters. We can still have a great year. It's all out there before us."

Poll watch

After creeping about as close to the weekly FCS Top 25 polls as you can get without getting in the last couple of weeks, Saturday's loss sent Furman reeling back down the ladder of "others receiving votes" land. After receiving 129 points, which would've ranked No. 27, in last week's Stats Perform (media) poll, the Paladins garnered 15 points this week. That rank would be No. 33.

This drop came after a seven-point loss to 16th-ranked Samford, which moved up to No. 13, in a game tinged with controversy and played without starting quarterback Tyler Huff. The resume for Furman (3-2, 1-1) also includes a 23-point loss at FBS' fifth-ranked Clemson, in a game where the Paladins outgained the Tigers, and a 13-point win at then No. 18-ranked ETSU. There are a few teams ahead of Furman that have a worse loss, which is kind of reflected in the Paladins being 22nd among FCS teams in this week's Massey Ratings. 

Injury update

Hendrix said Huff (dislocated elbow) participated in practice Sunday and that they'll see how it goes with him this week. He expects Dominic Morris, who missed the Samford game, to return this week. Morris has the team lead in interceptions (two) and pass break-ups (four). Dae'one Wilkins had surgery last week and will miss "hopefully just four weeks," according to Hendrix.

Hendrix confirmed that defensive end Jeremiah Jackson is out for the year after suffering an injury at Charleston Southern. With 8:16 left in the game, Jackson's knee twisted awkwardly as he was thrown to the ground from behind away from the play as it ended.

"It was a really bad injury that should've never happened," Hendrix said. "It was something totally not to do with the play. I just hate it for him. He had to have surgery."

Sunday, October 2, 2022

Paladins fail to overcome adversity in loss

Furman's Ivan Yates holds up the ball he came down with on a controversial play
in the Paladins' 34-27 loss to Samford Saturday. Photo courtesy of Furman

How quickly things can change.

All week, it appeared Furman would be playing in windy, wet conditions in its first home game in a month Saturday. But a couple of hours before kickoff, the sun appeared and it turned into a beautiful day at Paladin Stadium.

It got more beautiful for the home fans over the first 20 minutes. Five minutes into the second quarter, the Paladins were poised to build on a 10-0 lead after their second interception of the day set them up at the Samford 26-yard line.

But after long delay and TWO reviews of the same play, the ball inexplicably was awarded back to Samford. The Bulldogs took advantage of the horrific ruling, scoring a touchdown on that drive.

And the next drive.

And the next drive.

The 20-0 spurt over a six-and-a-half minute span stunned Furman. While never being out of the game, the Paladins never seemed to fully recover as 16th-ranked Samford went on to a 34-27 win.

"The one call didn't beat us, but we let it beat us later on and that's on me. We've got to respond better in those situations," Furman coach Clay Hendrix said. "I wish those situations didn't occur. They seem to occur too often sometimes around here, especially with some review stuff. But I'm just disappointed in how we responded.

"Give Samford credit. They played better than we did today and coached better."

On the controversial play, Furman's Ivan Yates drilled Samford's Chandler Smith at the same time a pass arrived and Yates came out of the collision with the ball. Replays clearly indicated this, as well as the fact that Smith never had the ball nor did it ever touch the ground. But after a delay while Smith was checked on by trainers, Samford's offense went back out on the field as if it was a completed pass.

Before a snap took place, officials stopped for a review. After that delay, the ruling was that Yates made the interception. The ball was placed at the 28-yard line, rather than the 26 where Yates landed though. Before a snap could be made, Samford coach Chris Hatcher spoke with two officials on that sideline. After a couple of minutes, two officials spoke with Hendrix on the Furman sideline. Suddenly, the head official went back for another review.

Most of us in the press box assumed they were checking the spot since it was two yards off. But after the lengthiest review of them all, the head official declared that Smith's forward progress was stopped before the ball came loose. But that means that Smith had possession, which never actually happened. All in all, this embarrassing fiasco for the Southern Conference lasted 13 minutes between plays.

"They made the decision (after the first review), then the other side of the field gets a five-minute explanation and then they go back and review again," said Hendrix. "I've never ever seen that. ... I thought it was an interception and the ball was never possessed (by Smith).

"But they played better than we did and coached better than we did. It should've never came down to that. We had plenty of opportunities to take control of the game early and we didn't."

The review crew looked like hypocrites later in the game. Furman trailed 34-20 early in the fourth quarter when Smith made a leaping grab of a pass. The ball was knocked out by Micah Robinson, picked up by Braden Gilby and returned to the Samford 24-yard line. But a review overruled the fumble call on the field claiming that Smith never had possession and it was an incompletion. This one was debatable, but there's no debate that Smith actually had some semblance of a possession this time.

Now, on to the things that Furman could control.

The Paladins (3-2, 1-1) had a great drive to start the game going 73 yards on 14 plays. But a dropped touchdown on first-and-goal was followed by a false start. For the fourth consecutive game, Furman's first points came via settling for a first quarter field goal.

That field goal came after Jace Wilson was stopped for a one-yard gain on third-and-goal from the three on a shotgun draw out of an empty backfield. The Paladins' next field goal try, a 51-yard attempt by Ian Williams that was blocked, came after Wilson threw to Ryan Miller for a one-yard gain on third-and-four. Furman's last field goal came two plays after a false start on third-and-one at the Samford 11.

After that field goal cut the lead to 34-20 early in the fourth quarter, the Paladins' next possession ended on a punt after Dominic Roberto was dropped for a loss of one on a third-and-two shotgun handoff.

The struggles to line up and get necessary yards on third-and-short plays Saturday were especially frustrating against a Samford team not accustomed to stopping the Paladins. Furman ran for 460 yards against Samford in 2019, 248 two seasons ago and 358 last season. But on Saturday, the Bulldogs' new transfer-rich defense under a new defensive coordinator held the Paladins 128 yards rushing on 38 attempts.

Furman finished with 457 yards of total offense, but it took 97 plays to do it. Making his first start since last season for injured starter Tyler Huff (dislocated elbow), Wilson broke the school's single-game record Saturday with 38 completions. His 59 attempts were the second-most in school history. He finished with 329 yards passing, three touchdowns, no interceptions and 38 yards rushing. The completions record isn't the most glorified one though. Saturday marked the 13th time a Furman quarterback completed at least 26 passes in a game and the Paladins fell to 0-13 in those games.

"I thought Jace stepped in and did a good job," Hendrix said. "The dropped passes were big. We just left too many points on the field."

A Furman team that was near the national lead in turnovers forced and turnover margin lost that battle, technically anyway, 3-1. Samford (4-1, 2-0) scored a pair of touchdowns off of its three fumble recoveries, the last of which was pounced on at the Furman eight-yard line. The Bulldogs' touchdown after that fumble pushed the lead to 34-17 in the third quarter.

Furman's defense held Samford leading rusher Jay Stanton to 17 yards on eight carries. He entered Saturday averaging 71.5 yards per game. Unfortunately for the Paladins, they weren't as successful against Stanton's backup. Jaylan Thomas had 104 yards on only five carries, including three touchdowns. All three scores came on seemingly the same play, a simple dive handoff up the middle.

"The big thing that's been killing us on defense is giving up explosive plays," said Furman bandit Luke Clark, who had two of the Paladins' five sacks Saturday. "Three explosive runs from a team that really doesn't want to run the ball shouldn't happen.

"I don't think it's a lack of effort. I think we've just got to practice making sure that we can be where we're supposed to be."

What's becoming a trend now for Furman is that the defense's seemingly only weakness is the offense's biggest weakness. It's big plays - too many given up and not nearly enough gained.

"We're not getting any chunk plays in the run game. They are hard yards we're getting," said Hendrix. "They've (opposing defenses) got eight guys standing up there (in the box) most of the time. ... We've got to find a way to get some of those chunk yards.

"You get 97 plays, you've got to score more points than we did. We tried to mix it up because we knew they were going to crowd the ball in there. ... The three turnovers were just killers."

Furman plays at The Citadel next Saturday at 2 p.m.