“The Battle of the Purple” was a fantastic game at Paladin Stadium. Whether you are a Furman or Western Carolina fan, you would leave Furman University's campus with a smirk after the mind-bending fourth quarter. However, most Furman diehards, players, and coaches breathed a sigh of relief. The Dins, leading 44-20 at one point, nearly gave the game away. Why?
The Paladins came into the game riding a 21-10 victory over rival The Citadel, where the sluggish offensive performance would be one to remember. Despite the victory, the Paladin offense worked hard throughout the week to perfect their offensive strategy, tackling ball security issues and the running game.
Veteran transfer QB Tyler Huff started once again, still banged up slightly from his injury earlier in the season against Charleston Southern. OC Josh Roper recognized this in the last game, probably hoping to give more calls to RB Dominic Roberto and switch up the blocking scheme for the offensive line. The Western Carolina Catamounts had likely been prepared for a pass-dominant offense, as they had seen in their previous two games, where they allowed more than 200 yards passing. They would also make some adjustments hoping to put additional pressure on Huff for the game.
From the beginning, it would be the “Dominic Roberto Show” for the Paladins as Roberto jumped out for a 62-yard rushing touchdown to put the Dins up early, 7-0. From there, the teams would tug and pull before the Dins would score 20 unanswered points. Wayne Anderson Jr. would also have a highlight play as he returned a 97-yard kick for a touchdown to start the second half, the first by a Paladin since 2018 and the ninth longest in Furman history.
The “Dominic Roberto Show” would continue throughout the game, giving shades of Furman’s Jerome Felton as he waltzed across the field for gain. Roberto would seal the game with 25 carries for 252 yards (10.1 AVG!) and two touchdowns. This would be the third-highest rushing tally in Furman history. He would later be named the FedEx Ground FCS National Offensive Player of the Week.
As the Dins enjoyed a late 44-20 lead, many of the Furman fans began to file out as it was surely going to be an insurmountable Paladin lead. Sadly, which many coaches hope to avoid, it seemed the defense took up the same act. The Dins would only score 10 points in the second half, which is not what Head Coach Clay Hendrix or defensive coordinator Duane Vaughn wanted to see. Many teams can get relaxed when it seems the dagger has been inserted, but anything other than that is unacceptable when you have a “championship or bust” demeanor.
Despite the scare late in the fourth quarter, the Paladins would come out on top. The Dins survived a late surge by WCU to win 47-40. In the locker room, the coaching staff rallied a “WHO DAT” chant with players reminiscent of the New Orleans Saints. A winning attitude is much better than reminiscing over a sluggish second-half defensive performance. The Dins will indeed look to remedy these issues this week.
The Dins compiled only 66 yards passing this past week, which will not cut it for a team in the hunt for the SoCon championship. Nonetheless, a win is a win; Hendrix, Vaughn, and Rope will be working hard with the team this week to make sure they can play 60 minutes of football. Additionally, look for OC Justin Roper to give QB Tyler Huff more touches through the air this week in practice. Despite Roberto’s electric performance, the Dins would be looking at a devastating offensive implosion if he were not to deliver.
If the Dins are going to dial up the passing game this week, they will need to take some aggressive shots downfield. In this new age of college football, where aggressive passing is the game's name, the Dins cannot win games with only 66 yards passing. It would be foolish to rely on one player’s offensive production, but if shots should be taken, expect Roper to use his resources wisely. Tyler Huff is one of the best QB’s in SoCon, with some of the best targets in WR Joshua Harris and TE Ryan Miller. Harris can elevate for improbable catches, while Miller can guarantee a conversion on any “third and medium-play” you can draw up. That is if you can get them open.
As for the defense, it is simply a matter of playing 60 minutes. Analysts often overlook how a defense can be gassed by an “overproductive offense.” In college football, defenses will constantly struggle if they cannot keep up with the pace of the offense (which was very accurate with the Dins this past Saturday). If you look at the 2019 LSU football team, who had the best and quickest offense in the NCAA with Joe Burrow, they had one of the worst defenses in the SEC through the first seven games. Still, they had the best offense in the league; if the offense cannot produce, it comes down to the defense to come up with the numbers. Expect DC Duane Vaughn to work hard with his players to get off the field on third down this week.
The Dins, after their victory against WCU, who improved to 5-2 (3-1 SoCon), will be looking to extend this record at the Virginia Military Institute Keydets this Saturday at 1.30 p.m. on ESPN+. The Dins should not underestimate VMI as they look to not drop four games in a row. Their “do or die” attitude will be especially prevalent as they hope not to disappoint their home crowd. Go Dins!