Furman (2-2, 0-1 SoCon) at Wofford (1-3, 0-2 SoCon)
Date: Oct. 9, 2021
Time: 1:30 p.m.
Venue: Gibbs Stadium (13,000)
Furman Head Coach: Clay Hendrix (27-20, 4th yr)
Wofford Head Coach: Josh Conklin (19-15, 3rd yr)
All-Time Series: Furman leads 54-33-7
Setting The Scene:
Furman and Wofford is not only one of the oldest rivalry in the state of South Carolina, but also the oldest rivalry in the Deep South, even pre-dating the what both Georgia and Auburn claim as the“Deep South’s oldest rivalry”, which got its start in 1891, which is exactly two years later than Furman and Wofford commenced their rivalry in 1889., as the Paladins and Terriers first did, with Wofford able to score a 5-1 victory over the Paladins in Spartanburg.
The rivalry has seen some great games over the years, especially since Wofford joined the FCS (formerly Division I-AA) in 1996. The two programs have tremendous overall winning traditions, having combined to win 21 Southern Conference titles and make a combined 30 FCS playoff appearances in their respective histories. The Paladins and Terriers will be meeting for the 25th time since the Terriers joined the Southern Conference as an official member back in 1997, with the Paladins holding a narrow 13-11 series edge in the all-time series. The two programs have met in every season since 1995, with the Paladins holding the 15-11 series edge.
The last time the Paladins and Terriers did battle on the college football rivalry was back in 2019, and on that particular penultimate Saturday of the Southern Conference regular-season, there was a league title crown on the line when the two met on the gridiron. Following a 24-7 win, it was the Terriers that gained at least a share of a third-straight league crown back on Nov. 16, 2019.
Streaks and Trends
The Paladins and Terriers both find themselves in precarious situations entering Saturday’s clash in Spartanburg. Wofford is off to an 0-2 start in Southern Conference play for the first time since 2009.
Meanwhile, Furman will be looking to avoid its first 0-2 start to league play since 2016.Given the success of both football programs as Southern Conference members, it’s peculiar even in an early season league clash between these two to have so much on the line this early in the season.
Wofford has owned the series of late, having won six of the last 10 meetings between the two rivalries. Wofford enters the contest off a 27-21 setback at East Tennessee State this past Saturday, which marked the first loss to the Bucs on the gridiron since 1998, ending a nine game losing skid to the Bucs.
The loss by the Terriers marked the sixth-straight setback in league play since the start of the 2019 spring season, and a loss to Furman Saturday would also tie the longest Southern Conference back in 1998.
The Terriers lost seven-straight games in contiguous seasons (1997 and ’98, which also just happened to be the longest losing streak by the Terriers since joining the SoCon. Meanwhile, a win by Furman would also mark its first win at Gibbs Stadium since 2006, All things considered, despite Furman’s struggles as of late in Spartanburg, the Paladins have played pretty well in Spartanburg over the Years. All time in Spartanburg, the the Terriers hold a 22-20-2 all-time series edge. </p>
Wofford, which was the three-time defending Southern Conference champions and had appeared in four-straight FCS playoff postseason’s, saw both streaks end abruptly last spring, as the Terriers stumbled to just a 1-4 record, and were not able to even finish the spring due to attrition in the trenches caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Last time they met: Wofford 24, Furman 7 (Nov. 16, 2019)
With the 2019 Southern Conference regular-season on the line, it would be Wofford that would claim at least a share of the 2019 regular-season title, dispatching Furman, 24-7, at Gibbs Stadium, as the Terriers picked up their seventh-straight win over the Paladins in the friendly confines. Furman’s last win over Wofford in Spartanburg came in a 35-21 win over the Terriers at Gibbs Stadium in 2006.
The win saw Wofford improve its record to 7-3 overall and 6-1 in Southern Conference action, while Furman had concluded its league slate with a 7-4 overall mark and a 6-2 ledger in league action. The win guaranteed Wofford the automatic bid to the FCS postseason, ensuring a fourth-straight selection to the FCS field of 24, and it was also the third-straight outright or shared SoCon crown for the Terriers.
Josh Conklin’s Wofford Terriers seemingly gained steam as the season progressed, and after getting off to a slow 0-2 start to the regular-season, the would close the regular-season by winning eight of its final nine games, including getting wins over both The Citadel (31-11) and Furman (24-7) to close out the regular-season Southern Conference title.
he Southern Conference title marked Wofford’s third in a row, and its trip to the FCS playoffs marked its fourth-consecutive appearance in the FCS postseason.
The 24-7 win over the Paladins on Nov. 16 not only clinched at least a share of the Southern Conference title, it also helped the Terriers avenge what was a 34-14 loss in Greenville last season to their arch-rival. A win over The Citadel in the final week of the season ensured Wofford the 2019 outright Southern Conference crown.
The Terriers made a pair of fourth down stops inside the three-yard line in the second half, and held the Paladins to just 265 yards of total offense in claiming what was their seventh-straight win over the Paladins in Spartanburg.
Furman would get off to the fast start, however, as true freshman running back Wayne Anderson, Jr. scampered 63 yards on the fourth play from scrimmage, giving the Paladins the early 7-0 lead following Grayson Atkins PAT with 13:06 to play in the opening quarter.
Wofford would storm back, however, as the Terriers got a pair of touchdown runs from senior quarterback Joe Newman, which would eventually give the Terriers a 14-7 lead heading into the halftime locker room.
In the third quarter, Wofford would march 76 yards on its opening possession of the second half, as Blake Morgan’s 29-yard scoring burst with 10:03 remaining in the third gave Wofford a commanding 21-7 lead. It would be all the cushion the stout Terrier defense needed in helping ensure second-year Terrier head coach Josh Conklin’s first-ever win over the Paladins.
Furman would try and offer an answer following Morgan’s scoring scamper, as the Paladins drove 71 yards on the ensuing drive, however, what once had looked like a promising scoring drive that might have made things interesting in Spartanburg for the final quarter, turned into a momentum-changing defensive stand for Wofford, who turned away the Paladin offense on downs at the two-yard line.
Wofford’s final nail in Furman’s championship hopes came in the fourth quarter, as Terrier place-kicker Luke Carter knocked home a 20-yard field goal to give the Terriers, a three-touchdown lead, at 24-7, with 4:12 to play in the contest.
Furman was paced offensively by Anderson, who finished the day with 68 yards and a touchdown on two rush attempts, while junior running back Devin Wynn finished the afternoon with 56 rushing yards on 15 carries.
The Paladins played both quarterbacks Hamp Sisson, who started the game, and fellow redshirt freshman Darren Grainger, who entered the game late in the opening half to try and spark the Paladin offense. Sisson finished the day by connecting on 12-of-27 passes for 94 yards, with an interception, while Grainger completed 1-of-3 passes for four yards. Wynn also led Furman’s receiving efforts, as he hauled in five passes for 31 yards.
Wofford was led in the contest by fullback Blake Morgan, who had a huge day running the football for the Terriers, as he finished with 147 yards and a touchdown on 22 rush attempts. Wofford quarterback Joe Newman finished the day completing 4-of-8 passes for 48 yards, while rushing the ball seven times for 40 yards and a pair of scores. All told, the Terriers ended up out-gaining the Paladins 336-265 on the day.
The loss by Furman was one that ended up leaving such a good season up to this point with a bit of a sour note heading down the stretch and into the postseason. It seemed pretty obvious with this loss that stung just a bit more than all the others, and probably did some lasting damage, at least as far as the 2019 season was concerned, to the team’s overall psyche and morale.
It’s been 693 days since Furman and Wofford played in a de facto Southern Conference championship matchup, which saw the Terriers trounce the Paladins, 24-7, to gain a share of the 2019 Southern Conference crown and gain the FCS automatic bid into the FCS Playoffs. It’s an understatement to say that a little less than two years later, the circumstances have changed for both programs, as both meet winless in league play. The only other time that has happened was to open the 2017 season, when it was the season-opener for both teams.
Since that 2019 meetings, things have changed in a negative direction for both Wofford and Furman. The Terriers and Paladins went on to claim wins over both The Citadel (31-11) and Point (64-7), but things started to change in the postseason for both programs. Furman was a 40-6 loser at Austin Peay in the opening round, while the Terriers were 28-21 losers at home to Kennesaw State.
The Paladins, who were picked to win the SoCon last spring by the media, finished 3-4. The coaches picked Wofford, and the Terriers proceeded to not even be able to complete the spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic, finishing the season 1-4. The Paladins are off to a 2-2 start this season, making them 6-6 since the last time the two Upstate, S.C. rivals, while Wofford has posted a 3-8 mark.
With the two combined 0-3 in league play already, it’s likely a playoff elimination game at the very least for both teams, and Furman’s conference title hopes with one loss already are in serious peril, while the O-2 Terriers’ league title hopes are most likely on life support.
The Offensive Offenses:
In 2019, Furman came into their final Southern Conference battle game against Wofford having boasted three 600-yard performances, and by the time the season, had four after the game against Point, has struggled to find anywhere near that same kind of offensive efficiency since that loss in Spartanburg. Other than games against Point, Samford, Western Carolina and North Carolina A&T this season, the Paladins have for the most part been inconsistent offensively, especially in the ground game.
The Paladins currently rank 100th in FCS football in scoring offense (16.2 PPG) and 83rd in rushing offense (118.8 YPG). By contrast, heading into the 2019 game against Wofford, the Paladins were averaging 282.5 YPG on the ground, ranking fifth overall in the FCS. Furman’s offense hasn’t scored a touchdown since the third quarter of the N.C. State loss, going nearly six quarters without finding the end zone. Furman is generating just 336.5 YPG of total offense this season, which ranks 76th overall in the FCS.
Furman will likely employ the services of two signal-callers in Saturday’s contest against Wofford, with both Hamp Sisson (66-of-113 passing, 785 yds, 4 TDs, 5 INTs) and Jace Wilson (6-of-12 passing, 60 yds, 1 INT/6 rush att, 15 yds, 2.5 YPC), who both saw action the last time out for the Paladins against Mercer.
Wilson is a true freshman signal-caller from Missouri City, TX, and he can give the Paladins an element in the run game they haven’t really had since the departure of Darren Grainger when he transferred to Georgia State prior to the spring season.
Despite not experiencing much success in the ground game so far this season, the Paladins still have a litany of talent in the ground game in the form of Devin Wynn (55 rush att, 225 yds, 2 TDs, 4.1 YPC), Devin Abrams (19 rush att, 66 yds, 3.5 YPC), Dominic Roberto (17 rush att, 56 yds, 3.3 YPC) and Kendall Thomas (15 rush att, 33 yds, 2.2 YPC). The Paladins have to find a way to get one of those running backs going.
Furman has not had a 100-yard rusher yet this season. Abrams is on the verge of reaching the 1,000-yard mark for his career, needing 38 more rushing yards to accomplish that particular feat on Saturday.
Wynn currently ranks seventh in Furman history in career rushing yards, having rushed for 2,693 yards and 27 TDs on 471 rush attempts in his Paladin career. Wynn is averaging 5.8 YPC for his career.
The senior running back from Greensboro, GA., enjoyed his most productive outing against the Terriers back in 2018, but he did so as a receiver, hauling in three passes for 64 yards and a touchdown. That could be an area to keep an eye on Saturday for the Furman offense and that is whether or not the Paladins can get Wynn involved in the passing game. He has eight catches for 82 yards and a TD in 2021.
The Paladins were notably beaten in the trenches by Wofford’s 3-4 defensive front back in the meeting in 2019. The Paladins were held to 167 yards on the ground, and just 265 yards of total offense in the loss at Wofford back in 2019.
Along the offensive front, the Paladins have a good mix of veterans and youth—all of which have seen meaningful game action. Center Evan Jumper (20 starts) is Furman’s most-experienced player along the offensive line, while Anderson Tomlin is one of the most talented left tackle’s in the Southern Conference. It’s a Paladin offensive line that has surrendered three sacks in four games this season.
While Ryan Miller (16 rec, 252 yds, 2 TDs, 15.8 YPR) is the known entity in the passing game for the Paladins coming into the season, and the main question coming into the 2021 season was who will be the big-play wideout for the Paladins?
That was an area of concern in the spring. Furman has addressed that somewhat through the first four games, with the addition of Joshua Harris (14 rec, 189 yds, 1 TD, 13.5 YPR), while the experience Ryan DeLuca (8 rec, 87 yds, 10.8 YPR) brings in a game like this could be especially important.
Wofford’s offense has been equally as “challenged” this season. The Terriers come into Saturday’s contest against the Paladins ranking even worse in terms of total offense, as the Terriers are averaging 315.5 YPG so far this season, which ranks exactly 10 spots lower in the FCS national stats, at No. 86 in total offense.
The Terriers are averaging just three more points per game this season than the Paladins, posting 19.5 PPG. The Terriers currently rank 17 spots higher than the Paladins at No. 83 nationally in scoring offense.
It’s not unexpected to see Wofford play two quarterbacks routinely over the years, however, what is uncommon is to see both struggle. That’s what has happened this season, but Jimmy Weirick (21-of-38 passing, 234 yds, 0 TDs, 1 INT/15 rush att, 74 yds, 2 TDs) was solid in his lone start against VMI earlier this season. In that contest, Weirick was able to connect on 11-of-19 passes for 119 yards, with an INT, while also rushing for 52 yards and a pair of scores on 11 carries in the loss.
While all week it was said that Weirick would be the starter last week at East Tennessee State, it turned out to be Peyton Derrick (24-of-45 passing, 307 yds, 1 TD, 3 INTs) getting start and going the whole game due to an unknown injury to Weirick, which kept him less than 100%. No decision has been made on who will start Saturday, however, if I had to guess, it will be Weirick getting the controls of the Wofford offense Saturday. One interesting note on Derrick, who transferred to Wofford from Appalachian State, is the brother of former Furman quarterback Dakota Derrick (2008-11).
The Terriers might not be the rushing power they were as recent as 2019, entering Saturday’s contest, however, the Terriers still rank a very respectable 31st in rushing offense (178.0 YPG) nationally. The Terriers have not ranked lower than eighth to end any season in rushing offense dating back to their first official season in the Southern Conference in 1997.
The Terriers have some solid options on the ground, with Irvin Mulligan (53 rush att, 306 yds, 4 TDs, 5.8 YPC), Nathan Walker (24 rush att, 51 yds, 1 TD, 2.1 YPC) and Jamari Broussard (24 rush att, 123 rush yds, 1 TD, 5.1 YPC), who are all three more than serviceable in the ground game, and both are capable of breaking the big run. Walker was a preseason All-SoCon pick and is one of the veteran-most player’s on the offensive side of the football for the Terriers.
Mulligan, Walker and Broussard run behind a solid offensive front, which is anchored by preseason all-conference selection, in right guard Zach Kurz. It’s a unit that has surrendered just two sacks through the first four games of the season and ranks 24th in the nationally in sacks surrendered.
Wofford registered its first passing score of the season last week, as Alec Holt (6 rec, 102 yds, 1 TD, 17.0 YPR) hauled in a 43-yard scoring pass from Derrick. Holt is easily the best big-play wideout for the Terriers heading into Saturday afternoon’s contest. He will team with R.J. Khayo (12 rec, 158 yds, 13.2 YPR) and tight end Wyatt Bartkowski (1 rec, 7 yds ).
A look at the defenses:
While points might have been hard to come by on the offensive side of the football this season for either Wofford or Furman, both bring solid defensive units into Saturday’s showdown in Spartnaburg. The Paladins are multiple on the defensive side of the football under the direction of one of FCS football’s young up and coming defensive coordinator’s, in Duane Vaughn. The Paladins have been outstanding this season, and in their 26-0 shutout win at Tennessee Tech a few weeks back, recorded the program’s first shutout since 2004.
The Paladins enter Saturday’s contest in Spartanburg ranking 34th nationally in total defense (339.0 YPG), while also ranking third in the Southern Conference in that same category. The Paladins have been good against both the run and pass this season, ranking 44th in the FCS against the run (133.8 YPG), while ranking 40th in passing yards allowed (205.2 YPG) through the first four games of the season. Furman is also surrendering a respectable 21.8 PPG through the first four games of the season, which is good enough to rank the Paladins 32nd nationally.
Though the Paladins are multiple on the defensive side of the football, the primary defensive alignment is a 3-4 scheme. Furman’s defensive line is among the most-experienced units in FCS football, and its the fulcrum of Furman’s strong defensive unit.
Leading the defensive line heading into Saturday’s showdown at Gibbs Stadium are two-time All-SoCon nose guard Cameron Coleman (6 tackles), as well as senior defensive end Landon Lawrence (8 tackles, 1.0 TFL, 1 QBH, 1 FF), who is set to make his 17th start along the Paladin defensive front.
There’s equally as good of talent and experience at the four linebacker spots for the Paladins, with sack-master Adrian Hope (13 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 1.0 sack) anchoring the unit at ‘bandit’ and he’s still looking for that big game this season to help kick-start his final season as a Paladin. Hope is already going to leave Furman as one of its greatest pass-rushers in program history, having recorded 24.5 sacks in his Paladin career.
Hope teams with Elijah McKoy (9 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 1.0 sack)—another of Furman’s most experienced defensive performers with 27-career starts and 245-career tackles, as the duo helps tag-team the bandit linebacker position.
At middle linebacker, Dan Scianna (10 tackles, 0.5 TFL, 1 FF) is slated to make his first-career start in Spartanburg Saturday, and he will team with Nick Kuzemka (11 tackles, 1 FF) in the middle of that Paladin defensive unit. Junior ‘spur’ linebacker Dae’One Wilkins (14 tackles, 1.0 TFL, 1 blkd kick) rounds out a strong Paladin front seven.
The secondary had to replace Darius Kearse coming off the spring, however, the Paladins have two of the best at their respective positions in the secondary, in lockdown cornerback Travis Blackshear (17 tackles, 1.0 TFL, 1.0 sack, 3 INTs, 3 PBUs, 1 FF, 1 FR), as well as strong safety DiMarcus Clay (9 tackles, 2 INTs, 1 PBU). Furman free safety Hugh Ryan (22 tackles, 1.0 TFL, 1 PBU, 1 TFL, 1 QBH) leads the entire Paladin defense in total tackles this season.
Wofford, although numbers-wise not as good, still has one of the more solid defensive units in the SoCon entering Saturday afternoon’s clash. The Terriers enter the contest ranking fifth overall and 80th in the FCS in total defense, surrendering 406.8 YPG. So far in 2021, the Terriers have been better against the pass, ranking 47th nationally, surrendering 209.5 YPG through the air. As a defensive unit against the run, the Terriers have somewhat surprisingly struggled this season, as it has been a unit that has ordinarily been solid against the run, ranking 103rd nationally by surrendering 197.2 YPG.
The best news for Wofford fans might be the return of standout defensive lineman Michael Mason (17 tackles, 3.0 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 2 FFs) along the defensive front, and when healthy, the junior defensive end is among the best pass-rushing bookends in the SoCon. Mason was the SoCon’s Freshman of the Year back in 2019.
Wofford’s most experienced unit on either side of the football is its linebacking corps, as three of four starters slated to start Saturday’s contest are seniors. Inside linebackers Brandon Brown (13 tackles) and Joe Beckett (33 tackles), and outside linebacker John Beckley (19 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 1.0 sack, 1 FF, 1 FR, 1 QBH) have played in a lot of meaningful football games for Wofford over the past four years, as the trio helps form the heart and perhaps the strength of the Terrier defense.
The lone non-senior slated to start Saturday against the Paladins is outside linebacker Harrison Morgan (17 tackles, 0.5 TFL) is the lone non-senior starter in the Terrier linebacking corps.
Anchoring Wofford’s secondary will be a player with a familiar sir name to Paladin football fans, as junior strong safety Tahir Annoor (9 tackles, 1 PBU, 1 FR) is slated to anchor the secondary as its most talented overall performer. Annoor is the brother of former Paladin standout defensive back Aaquil Annoor. Wofford’s best lockdown corner is senior Donovan Anderson (16 tackles, 2 PBUs).
It might be better to throw darts than to try and answer this question about predicting the outcome of Saturday’s rivalry showdown between the Terriers and Paladins. Absolutely nothing has seemingly made sense about this season for either traditional SoCon title contenders Furman and Wofford, and if we’re honest with ourselves, Saturday’s contest is a game that will most definitely be a season-altering game for both the winner and loser, respectively.
The last time Furman tasted the sweetness of victory sweeter than a tall glass of The Beacon Restaurant’s famous sweet tea was way back in 2006, having lost seven-straight games in the Hub City. Furman had a pair of talented signal-callers, in Jordan Sorrells and Renaldo Gray, along with talents in its backfield like future NFL running back Jerome Felton. On the defensive side of the football, Furman had another future NFL performer, in cornerback William Middleton.
The future Jacksonville Jaguar would help change the trajectory of the football game following a score that ultimately tied the football game by Wofford’s talented running back Michael Hobbs on a 1-yard plunge with 12:42 remaining in the opening half. However, the ensuing kickoff would see Furman steal the momentum, as Middleton sprinted 100 yards the other way to help the Paladins retake the lead, 14-7, in a game between a pair of ranked foes.
It helped shift the momentum of the game squarely in the favor of the Paladins, as Middleton’s long return sparked a stretch in the game in which the Paladins scored 28 of the game’s next 35 points, as the Paladins assumed a 35-14 lead following a 1-yard scoring plunge from Paladin signal-caller Renaldo Gray in the third quarter.
I can’t make this prediction with the certainty I am able to make most of my SoCon predictions, however, I have a feeling Furman finds some offense on the ground this week for the first time this season, and that leads to a much-needed victory on the road following a much-needed week off to prepare for the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry.
Fall For Greenville 20
We have a spring fling 17