The looks on Furman football fans’ faces as they left Paladin Stadium on Saturday showed both contentment and disappointment. #2 Furman, despite winning, barely defeated an all-around weak ETSU, 16-8. The Paladins were overwhelming three-score favorites but struggled to move the football offensively, making the game difficult to watch. It left fans and critics wondering if the Paladins have what it takes to contend for the national championship.
What Furman needs to contend for the national championship is a lightning-fast offense and an impenetrable defense. In the game against ETSU, Furman lacked on the offensive side of the ball. The runningback room for Furman is stretched very thin with injuries, with Dominic Roberto being forced to take up a considerable amount of the carries with little rest. Multiple injuries on the offensive line exacerbated the poor quarterback protection and running game. ETSU came prepared to abuse this weakness of the Paladins as they collapsed on any rushes up the middle that Roberto would usually power through. They held Roberto to only three yards per carry and 85 yards rushing on 22 attempts, considerably lower than his usual numbers.
What confused many fans was the lack of running production the dual-threat QB Tyler Huff received. The Paladins utilize a run-pass-option (RPO) scheme, where the QB has the option to hand the ball to the RB, pass it, or keep it himself, all based on the scheme that the defense lines up in. This play requires multiple layers of communication and a split-second decision by the QB. Throughout the game, ETSU did an excellent job of taking Huff’s running ability out of play, eliminating the “option” portion of the RPO. Whenever Huff hesitated to give the ball to Roberto, a linebacker or defensive lineman waited on the edge to tackle him in the backfield, forcing Huff to give the ball to Roberto, who was also met with a wall of linemen. Scheme-wise, Furman needs to find more plays designed for Huff to run rather than relying on his split-second decision-making.
When Huff could throw the ball, it was much more effective than running. Huff connected to seven different receivers for 215 yards, 21/35 passing, and one touchdown. WR Joshua Harris led the way with 78 receiving yards on eight catches and one touchdown. Furman's passing offense has the potential to improve, though, and Harris demonstrated this possibility with his ability to produce yards after the catch. What made ETSU look weak offensively was their inability to produce after the catch, with their receivers often vying to fall to the ground after getting possession. The Paladins should also be willing to be more aggressive in making deep throws. If Furman can gain yards after catching the ball and make deep passes, the offense can be much more lethal.
Defense, again, was no issue for the Paladins. They intercepted the inexperienced freshman QB William Riddle three times off the hands of Cally Chizik, Kam Brinson, and Micah Robinson. They also smothered most ETSU rushing attempts and got off the field on third down. The defense hounded Riddle all game, forcing him to make ineffective check-downs in the flat or throw the ball away. All in all, it was business as usual for the defense. Defensive coordinator Duane Vaughn should be very proud of his stout defensive squad as they hope to continue their performance next week against Chattanooga.
In the end, in the words of head coach Clay Hendrix, it was just “one of those days.” Hendrix claimed responsibility for the lack of offensive production, citing a lack of preparation on offense. Next week, there will be no excuse for a lack of preparation as the now #2 Paladins (highest ranking since 2005) face the #13 Chattanooga Mocs on the road. It will be a challenging environment as the game, just like that against WCU, could decide the SoCon Champion. The Paladins should focus on being aggressive offensively—namely, playing up-tempo and throwing aggressive but accurate passes. Giving Huff more designed runs like QB draws should be a priority as well. Defensively, the Paladins must stop the run and hound UTC QB Chase Artopoeus into making bad passes.
The Paladins will return for Military Appreciation Day against VMI on Nov. 11. The game at UTC begins at 1:30 p.m. on ESPN+. Go Dins!