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."

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