“Defense wins championships” is a common phrase used in the football world. Furman’s 45-10 routing of Tennessee Tech (TTU) on Aug. 31 proved that the Paladins live and breathe by that phrase.
The Paladin defense, led by coordinator Duane Vaughn and a flurry of veterans, benefited from the mistakes of TTU’s sophomore quarterback Ethan Roberts and many other miscues. If last season was any indication to hold on to the ball within a five-mile radius of the Paladin defense, it seems TTU ignored the warnings last Thursday night.
The Paladins achieved an incredible six turnovers throughout the game. Senior linebacker Dan Scianna and senior cornerback Travis Blackshear were both able to intercept errant throws from TTU’s Roberts and return them for touchdowns. Junior safety Jack Rhodes and junior defensive lineman Xavier Stephens also intercepted Roberts.
As for fumbles, senior linebackers Emmanuel Adebayo and Nicky Kuzemka were able to get their hands on the ball. The impregnable Paladin defensive line also halted the rushing attack of TTU’s Jayvian Allen throughout the game, leaving the opposition with less than 100 yards rushing. With the strong defensive effort, Furman held TTU scoreless in the second half.
As for the Paladin offense, it was more challenging to get into a rhythm. An unintended consequence of the defense scoring 14 of the final 45 total points was that the offense saw the field for less time than TTU. Senior quarterback Tyler Huff had a hard time escaping TTU’s pass rush early in the game as the offensive line collapsed a few times.
However, as usual, he made up for this by being quick on his feet, aided further by the elusive veteran running back Dominic Roberto. As the TTU secondary got tired, the Paladin passing attack strengthened later in the game with multiple accurate throws by Huff down the middle and in the flat, once deep for 45 yards to Ben Ferguson. Huff finished the game with 172 yards passing with 15 completions on 27 attempts.
The star-studded receiver corps for the Paladins showed out as usual. Junior wide receiver Joshua Harris was on the lookout by TTU’s coaching staff, so they were sure to cover him thoroughly. However, he made his presence known on special teams with an extended 32 yard punt return that set up a Dominic Roberto touchdown late in the first half. Other receivers such as senior Kyndel Dean tied with Ferguson on receiving yards, with Dean scoring a touchdown off a counter play.
All-in-all, it was a successful first outing for the Paladins. The Furman Football team came into the national spotlight over the weekend as some news outlets reported on the other, not-so-lucky South Carolina Football teams. College football blue blood Clemson was humiliated by Duke 28-7 on Monday evening, as South Carolina was also defeated by the North Carolina Tar Heels. The UCLA Bruins beat Coastal Carolina, 27-13. NGU, Wofford, the Citadel, SC State, Presbyterian, and Erskine were all handed an “L” over the weekend. “Furman runs the state of South Carolina,” a Furman fan commented.
Whoever runs South Carolina comes down to the game this weekend for Furman. Head coach Clay Hendrix and the Paladins will travel to Williams-Brice Stadium in Colombia, SC, to face off against Shane Beamer’s South Carolina Gamecocks. The Gamecocks lost their season-opener in the Duke’s Mayo Classic last weekend against UNC, and they are poised for redemption against Furman.
The game will be challenging for Furman. South Carolina enters the game as a unanimous favorite. South Carolina views this matchup as a “tune-up” game before they face the defending college football champions: number one-ranked Georgia Bulldogs. Furman can come to this game to ruin South Carolina’s season or simply be a thorn in their back. If either is accomplished, Hendrix and his squad would likely be satisfied.
Two things will happen if Furman wants to stand a chance against South Carolina. One is to stop quarterback Spencer Rattler. The six-foot-one gunslinging veteran is among some of the Southeastern Conference's best quarterbacks. He was able to throw for an impressive 350 yards against the top 25 UNC the previous week.
The second goal is to attack the vulnerable South Carolina secondary. Last week, in their game against UNC, quarterback Drake Maye was able to light up the field with his accurate deep ball, leading to two impressive touchdown passes. Behind his back was a skilled running back in British Brooks. Brooks was able to scurry for over 100 yards rushing. Does this sound familiar? To a Furman fan, it might: We have everything we need, in theory, to do what UNC did last weekend. We have highly-skilled Tyler Huff and veteran Dominic Roberto and the best ball-hawking defense in all of the FCS.
Although it would be ambitious to say Furman has a real chance to beat the Gamecocks, it should not be ruled out. Furman needs to protect Huff and become aggressive through the air. In addition, the offensive line will need to be on top of their game to open up lanes for Roberto around the outside and up the middle. Damage limitation should also be a top priority for Hendrix this week at practice. No matter the result, it will be a valuable learning experience for the Paladins that will be useful later in the season.
Furman begins its two-week road trip this Saturday against South Carolina before heading down to Georgia to face Kennesaw State the following weekend before returning to Paladin Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 23 at 1:00 p.m.. Eastern Time. Go Dins, and Beat South Carolina!