Furman Football 2022: Previewing the Paladins’ Oct slate of games

I continue my preview of Furman’s early-season schedule, taking a look at what will be the determining month of the season for Furman football as it usually is, as the Paladins enter the meat of their Southern Conference schedule.

Oct. 1, 2022–Samford at Furman

Furman was able to claim a second-straight win in the series against Samford last season

Furman and Samford has seemingly been one of the more underrated rivalries in the Southern Conference since the Bulldogs joined the league as an official member back in 2008.

The Paladins emerged from Birmingham last season having played maybe their most complete game on both sides of the football of the entire season, and the regular-season finale at Seibert Stadium saw Furman post an impressive 41-34 win.

The game would ultimately see Jace Wilson play maybe his best game of the season under center for the Paladins, as he completed the contest leading a Furman offense that was able to roll up an impressive 503 yards of total offense, which included a season-best 358 yards on the ground.

The win ensured Clay Hendrix’s team would secure a winning season, as the Paladins notched their sixth win in Homewood, while it put a cap on what was a disappointing season for the Bulldogs, as Samford finished the campaign with a 4-7 overall mark and a 3-5 record in league play, which was good enough for a tie for seventh-place in the nine-team SoCon. It was well below the expectations many had foreseen for the Bulldogs coming into the season.

Samford head coach Chris Hatcher enters his eighth season at the helm of the Bulldogs football program, and the offensive mastermind will have some key vacancies on that side of the football entering the 2022 season.

The first which must be addressed is quarterback Liam Welch, who put together an outstanding career following in the footsteps of Walter Payton Award winner and former Pittsburgh Steeler Devlin Hodges, who left the FCS as its all-time leading passer.

Welch, who entered the 2021 fall season as a Walter Payton Award candidate himself, finished out his stellar career in Homewood, AL, by passing for 3,369 yards and 22 TDs, however, did throw 15 picks. He was also an integral part of the ground game, rushing for 510 yards and a team-best eight TDs. All told, Welch completed the 2021 fall season with 3,879 yards of total offense and 30 TD responsibilities.

Battling for the right to lead the Bulldog offense when they open the season on Sept. 1 at Kennesaw State will be JUCO transfer Michael Hiers and University of Kentucky transfer Nik Scalzo.

Whomever is able to emerge at the conclusion of fall camp as the starter will be leading an offense that routinely is one of the more explosive aerial big-play offenses in FCS football. The Bulldogs are coming off a 2021 fall campaign, which saw the Bulldogs lead the league in scoring offense (37.9 PPG), while ranking second in total offense (448.7 YPG). The offensive highlight of note and potentially the most memorable moment of the disappointing campaign for the Bulldogs was putting up 52 points and 530 yards of total offense in a 70-52 loss at SEC East member Florida last season.

The 52 points were the most ever allowed by Florida to an opponent in a win, and the most ever scored by an FCS team against SEC opposition.

Another area of concern on the offensive side of the ball could be wide receiver, where the Bulldogs must replace leading wideout Montrell Washington, who was selected in the fifth round of the 2022 NFL Draft just this past weekend. Expected to step into the role as the Bulldogs’ go-to-wideout this fall should be Ty King, who returns for his senior campaign in 2022.

With those two key losses, it would be a shock if the Bulldogs weren’t again one of the most explosive passing attacks in the SoCon and FCS football. The two top performers returning on the offensive side of the football heading into the 2022 campaign are tight end Michael Vice and running back Jay Stanton.

The Bulldogs were relatively young along the offensive front last season, with the lone significant departure along the offensive front being Gavin Orr.

Despite the vacancies on the offensive side of the ball, defensive improvement is a must if the Bulldogs hope to find themselves in the thick of the SoCon title race this fall.

Samford ranked as the worst defense in the nation last fall, finishing the campaign surrendering 505 YPG and 39.5 PPG. Defensive linemen Tay Berry and Nelson Jordan account as two of the more significant departures on the defensive side of the ball heading into the 2022 season.

When the Bulldogs and Paladins tee-it-up in Paladin Stadium on Oct. 1, it will mark the 25th all-time meeting between the two, with the Paladins having a narrow 13-11 lead in the all-time gridiron series. A win would give Furman its third-straight over the Bulldogs in the series.

Oct. 8, 2022 Furman at The Citadel

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Furman ran over and through The Citadel last season, but it was a key defensive play that sealed the 24-14 win/photo courtesy of Furman athletics

There isn’t a better rivalry, or perhaps more accurately, one that features more hatred and vitriol for the other–in a sporting sense at least–than the one between Furman and The Citadel.

When the two met on a chilly October evening last fall at Paladin Stadium, it marked the first start for Paladin true freshman signal-caller Jace Wilson, and he looked good early before the Bulldog defense made some adjustments and made Wilson look very much like a freshman.

Fortunately for Paladin fans, their veteran defense came up big late, as senior linebacker Elijah McKoy’s came up with maybe the most spectacular defensive play made by anyone in the league all season last fall.

It was the fifth-year senior’s caused fumble on a Jaylan Adams option pitch in a tense, 17-14, game midway through the fourth quarter that changed the complexion of the 101st meeting between the two heated rivals.

On 1st-and-10 at the at The Citadel 43, McKoy’s timing was impeccable, breaking through The Citadel line unblocked and batted the pitch down, falling on the ball at The Citadel 31.

Seven rushing plays later, the Paladins took back their two-score lead when Devin Abrams broke through the Bulldog line for a 1-yard scoring plunge on 3rd-and-goal, with 3:36 remaining to make it a 24-14 game.

The win was arguably the sweetest victory of the season for Clay Hendrix’s Paladins, and at that moment of the season the Paladin defense was playing some of the best football of anyone in not only the SoCon, but also all of FCS football.

It came just six months after the Paladins were dominated on the road at Johnson Hagood Stadium, dropping the 27-6 contest on a day when Furman’s offense was seemingly non-existent.

At the very same time the Paladin defense was doing its thing at the very mid-point of the 2021 fall season, it was the emergence of a dominating running game that also had Paladin fans excited. Playing mostly without Devin Wynn, who had been injured a week earlier in a win at Wofford, the emergence of Dominic Roberto in the backfield was something that would be a theme for the latter part of the season.

Roberto, Wayne Anderson, Jr., Devin Abrams, starting quarterback Jace Wilson and Kendall Thomas combined to rush for 205 yards, but it was Roberto that did a lion’s share of the work, rushing for a career-best 132 yards and a score on just 12 carries. The 5-11, 242-lb sophomore’s 90-yard rumble accounted for the second-longest scoring run in program history.

Furman’s 205 yards on the ground was a large bulk of its 289 yards of total offense on just 52 total plays. Furman quarterbacks Jace Wilson (4-of-12, 89 yds, 1 TD) and Hamp Sisson (0-of-3) combined to go just 4-of-15 for yards and a TD through the air.

In fact, the Bulldogs owned advantages in total plays (89-52), total yards (364-289), time of possession (36:45-21:59), rushing yards (241-205) and passing yards (123-84). However, the Paladins did manage to win the turnover battle (3-2).

It was a significant turning point in the wrong direction for The Citadel and head coach Brent Thompson for much of the latter portion of the 2021 fall season. There was some question as to whether or not Thompson would retain his job as a result of some of the performances over the latter half of the campaign for the Bulldogs, which is why in my opinion The Citadel’s win at Chattanooga in the regular-season finale probably saved his job in the Scenic City.

The loss to Furman would be part of a five-game skid that would end until the final two weeks of the regular-season, when The Citadel was able to get a thrilling 45-44 overtime win over Wofford before sealing Chattanooga’s playoff hopes of an at-large FCS playoff bid a week later, with a 24-21 win over the Mocs.

With those two wins, the Bulldogs rallied for a 4-7 record and a 3-5 mark in league play, which was good enough for a tie for seventh in the SoCon standings with Samford at season’s end.

Like Samford, The Citadel will have to replace a starting signal-caller, as Jaylan Adams entered the transfer portal in search of a new start and a new position, deciding it was time to give wideout a try.

It led to a pretty interesting quarterback battle in the spring for Thompson’s option attack, with Graeson Underwood putting together a nice spring to likely put himself out in front in that positional battle heading into fall camp.

The 6-0, 225-lb quarterback isn’t the guy you normally picture running Thompson’s multi-faceted option attack, as he looks more like a fullback under center than a elusive, slippery quick option quarterback like former cadets Brandon Rainey or Ben Dupree.

Underwood’s main competitors for the starting job in the fall will be a pair of redshirt freshmen, in Ahmad Green and Varney Farhnbullah, who also progressed nicely with added reps in the spring.

The Bulldogs also graduated a player in do-everything wideout Raleigh Webb, who in my opinion, leaves as one of the top offensive weapons in the history of Bulldogs football. Haden Haas and Jon Barrett-Lewis are major losses along the offensive front from a unit that averaged 262.1 YPG on the ground last season.

While the losses are significant, the Bulldogs have some key pieces returning to that ground attack, which include running backs like Cooper Wallace, Logan Billings, Emeka Nwanze, Sam Llewellyn, and Nkem Njoku.

Defense was supposed to be a strength last season for The Citadel, however, that was side of the ball struggled from the outset. The Bulldogs did rally to rank fifth in the league in total defense by season’s end, but still ended up yielding over 400 YPG for the season (422.5 YPG).

The Bulldogs should have one of the better defensive backfields in the SoCon this fall, highlighted by Dominick Poole, who was named the SoCon Freshman of the Year last fall, finishing the season with 51 tackles, a tackle-for-loss, nine pass breakups and a pair of interceptions.

Furman and The Citadel will be meeting for the 102nd time in series history when they do battle in early October, with Furman holding a 61-37-3 all-time series edge. Kickoff time for that rivalry contest has not yet been announced.

Oct. 15,- Western Carolina at Furman

Rogan Wells had a big day, as Western Carolina scored a thrilling 43-42 win over Furman last season in Cullowhee/photo courtesy of Western Carolina athletics

If there is one game the that Furman will have circled on its calendar this fall, it’s the game against Western Carolina, who with its 43-42 win over Furman in Cullowhee, scored its first win over the Paladins since 2015.

It’s been a series dominated by Furman over the years, but it’s been a series that has featured some thrillers along the way, and the 2021 meeting certainly followed that theme that had been prevalent throughout the 1980s and ’90s in the series, despite the fact Furman had the better of those close ones.

Few Catamount fans will ever forget the 1983 win at Paladin Stadium, as it was a game that progressed Western Carolina’s football program into uncharted territory as a program, as the 14-13 win meant the Catamounts would become the first Southern Conference program to ever play for a national championship.

The Cats, which were at the time led by legendary and South Carolina Football and SoCon Football Hall of Fame head coach Bob Waters at the time, took down a Paladin team that had produced arguably its best team in school history, downing the Paladins, 14-7. The Catamounts would go on to drop a 43-7 contest in the national title game at Johnson-Hagood Stadium in Charleston to Southern Illinois.

Having never won a Southern Conference regular-season crown on the gridiron since joining the SoCon in 1976, the runner-up season of 1983 to go along with an impressive 11-win campaign remains the greatest accomplishment in the history of Catamount football.

The two teams had played to a 17-17 tie earlier in the season when the two had met at E.J. Whitmire Stadium in Cullowhee. With Catamount fans so overcome with joy, the goalposts at Paladin Stadium came down. For all those Paladin fans and players that were apart of that particular, that has never been forgotten, despite the Paladins having dominated the series.

That said, last year’s 43-42 loss might not have been anything like 1983, but the loss stung in a similar way, as Furman blew a third quarter lead in a game it was seemingly in complete control of in the third quarter.

As the past has seemingly always proven, strange things happen to Furman in the mountain air of western North Carolina. The Paladins have a weird propensity for coming up point short in the mountain air of this particular geographical region of the old North State. Furman held a seemingly comfortable double-digit lead early in the fourth (42-31), but it wouldn’t stand up.

The Catamounts, which lost their first six games of the season, all of the sudden had won three-straight with its win over the Paladins. The game played out much differently than it had in Greenville a few months earlier in the spring meeting between the two, as the preseason spring SoCon title favorite had kicked off that rarest of rare seasons the preceding February with a dominant 35-7 over the Catamounts.

The subject of the horror story for the Furman defense that played out for much of the afternoon was Valdosta State/Tusculum graduate transfer Rogan Wells, who might as well have been Richie Williams (Appalachian State/2002-05) against the Paladins on that early November afternoon, as he could seemingly do nothing wrong. He had the Midas touch against the Paladins.

On Oct. 9, 2004, App State’s Williams set an NCAA record with 28-consecutive pass completions,completing 40-of-45 passes for 413 yards and no INTs, leading the former SoCon and FCS member Mountaineers to a 30-29 win a little over 17 years ago. All told, Williams accounted for 440 yards of total offense and three TD responsibilities

Some 17 years later, Wells’ day strong day offensively came despite throwing a pair of INTs, and was enough to help the Catamounts overcome four turnovers in the contest. However, the INTs almost were an afterthought in comparison to how he played for nearly the entire afternoon.

Along with his 386 passing yards and two touchdowns, Wells also rushed for 91 yards, which included a 33-yard rushing score in the third quarter, as he totaled 477 yards of total offense and three touchdown responsibilities. He finished the day completing 22-of-33 passes, and it could be argued that both of the INTs he threw were on the receiver, and not on bad throws.

Wells is gone, but the problems that second-year head coach Kerwin Bell and his Catamounts could cause the Paladins once again this year even in Greenville aren’t. And while Bell has to find a replacement for Wells, he won’t have to look far, as Carlos Davis, who started and helped the Catamounts to a win a week earlier against The Citadel, landing Davis SoCon Player of the Week accolades.

The Catamounts also had much of that same staff in place, including offensive coordinator Kade Bell, who is Kerwin’s son.

That well-oiled machine of an offense certainly won’t be lacking for talent even without Wells around calling the shots under center anymore, with the likes of all-league wideout Raphael Williams, as well as Calvin Jones, who is another big-play threat at receiver.

Two things were prevalent that came together down the stretch for the Catamounts, which allowed them to win four of their final five games in the 2021 fall regular season and they were improved offensive line play, as well as a defense that seemingly improved as much as any in a five-week span than maybe any in FCS football.

Both the offensive line and the defense should be even better this fall, and I am of the opinion that it will make the Catamounts a dark horse league title contender in 2022.

The offensive line welcomes the return of all five starters that it had by the time it played Furman, which were all freshmen or sophomores due to a rash of injuries that hit the Catamounts early in the season. Keep in mind that the 2022 season had the backdrop of tragedy, with the sudden and tragic death of offensive line coach John Peacock of COVID-19 in August.

A little over a two weeks later, the program was dealt another tragic loss, as former Catamount Hall-of-Fame wideout and Super Bowl Champion with the New England Patriots David Patten was killed tragically in a motorcycle accident near Columbia.

But the Catamounts rallied strong to finish 4-7 overall, and their 4-4 mark in league action was good enough to ensure a tie for fourth place in the league standings along with Furman and VMI. In fact, with the Catamounts having beaten both the Paladins and Keydets head-to-head, they could at least claim fourth outright.

While the offense was young and fun to watch, the Catamount defense seemingly made game-changing plays look routine over the latter half of the campaign, with the most notable plays behind made in the secondary Andreas Keaton and Ronald Kent Jr. in the secondary–a unit that should be among the best in the SoCon this fall.

When the Battle of Purple of Supremacy kicks off on Oct. 16, it will mark the 50th all-time renewal of the rivalry, with Furman owning a commanding 34-13-2 all-time series edge.

Furman has yet to announce the kickoff time for the mid-October clash between the Paladins and Catamounts.

Oct. 22, 2022–Furman at VMI

Big plays spelled doom for VMI vs. Furman in 2021/photo courtesy of Furman athletics

Prior to Scott Wachenheim’s arrival in Lexington to take over the helm as VMI head football–arguably one of the if not the toughest Division I (FBS or FCS) coaching jobs in the country, a Furman loss to the Keydets was almost unfathomable.

However, Wachenheim has patiently built a VMI program that continues to do things once thought borderline miraculous, like winning a Southern Conference title in the spring of 2021 (2020 season).

After Furman dropped what was a heartbreaking 14-13 decision to the Keydets a couple of years ago, Furman was able to rally from behind to come up with a 37-31 in what was the regular-season home finale last season.

When the Paladins captured the six-point win over the Keydets last season, it was a game that saw both teams execute at a high level for much of the game, especially in the passing game.

At the end of what had become a cool fall evening by the time the game concluded, the Paladins had once again used big plays to dispatch of an opponent on home turf, which had become a theme in almost every home game of the 2021 fall campaign, starting with the season opening 29-18 win over North Carolina A&T.

In fact, if one were to define Furman’s offense for the 2021 fall season with one phrase, it would probably be something like the following– ‘be big-play or bust Paladins’.In the six-point win over the 20th-ranked Keydets, VMI, that theme continued true to form on what was a sun-splashed senior day defined once again by a bevy of big plays.

Furman had touchdown passes of 64 and 73 yards, and a scoring run of 39 yards in the opening half, which accounted for 21 of Furman’s 37 points on a day the Paladins honored 13 seniors (8-defense, 4-offense, and 1 specialist). 

Similar to its basketball program under Earl, and even more pronounced following his exodus to the Scenic City of Chattanooga to become the Mocs head hoops coach, it has become even harder to keep student athletes in either major sport within the beautiful Shenandoah Valley.

However, Wachenheim has not been phased, and he’s given the program a little bit of backbone and culture, which it had lacked for the better part of four decades prior to his arrival. For the first time since the late 1970s, the 2021 season saw VMI enter the season as one of the ‘hunted.

VMI will have a number of weapons still around on the offensive side of the ball, despite the fact that so many of those big-play skill position players are now suiting up somewhere other than VMI, including guys like Reece Udinski and Kris Thornton have transferred out of the program in recent seasons.

However, despite losing players of that ilk in recent seasons, the Keydets still managed to experience some solid success.

That’s due in part to the offensive system, but even when the Keydets have to replace some talented offensive or defensive coaches, Wachenheim has seemingly been able to more than adequately adjust to those departures by making the right replacement hire.

That will need to be the case this season, as for the first time in quite a while, the Keydets are having to replace coaches on both sides of the ball due to being successful over the past couple of campaigns rather than lack thereof.

The new coaches on staff for the Keydets will be defensive coordinator Nick Reveiz, while Jack Abercrombie will not only direct the passing attack, but will also now add overseeing the running back to his offensive coordinator responsibilities this fall.

Along with Reveiz joining the VMI staff, JB Lageman (Defensive Line), Dino Waites (Safeties), Bilal Marshall (Wide Receivers), and Greg Wood (Specialists) will all be part of the new re-tooled staff heading into 2022.

Wachenheim, who is entering his eighth season at the helm of the VMI football program, has some familiar faces returning on the offensive side of the ball, despite losing some pieces on that side of the ball, including maybe the best receiver in the SoCon, in Jakob Herres.

The good news is junior quarterback Seth Morgan returns under center, and due that injury to Udinski back in the spring of 2021, he will enter the season with already 1.5 seasons of starting experience under his belt.

Morgan isn’t probably going to threaten Udinski’s NCAA mark of 368 passes without an interception in his career, however, he brings his own savvy and athleticism to the VMI offense, which is unique and is a great leadership quality–something Wachenheim knows a little bit about, having been involved as a head coach or assistant coach at a military school or service academy for a good chunk of his coaching career.

Last season, Morgan passed for 2,175 yards, with 14 TDs and 11 INTs. He also is an elusive runner, coming off a campaign, which saw him rush for 191 yards and three scores. His best performance came in a thrilling 46-45 come-from-behind win over Samford, as he set a new program record for total offense with 525 yards in the epic come-from-behind win.

While Morgan is just one of several weapons to return on an offense that finished the 2021 fall season ranking 24th nationally in total offense (417.9 YPG) and 23rd nationally in passing offense (256.9), as the Keydets featured maybe their most balanced offensive version of the air raid under Wachenheim last season.

Defensively, a lack of size up front to generate pressure in a three-man or four-man front has been an issue at times even in current times as the program is undergoing a current run of success. The Keydet defense ranked 108th nationally in total defense (443.6 YPG). The Keydets struggled the most against the run, ranking 120th out 123 ranked teams in FCS football in rush defense last fall (232.9 YPG).

The one huge positive for Keydet fans on the defensive fans is that they may not have had the best defense in the SoCon over the past few seasons, however, they can lay claim to arguably the league’s best defensive player, in Stone Snyder, who returns at linebacker this fall.

Snyder led the SoCon in total tackles for a second-straight season last fall. His impressive 10.9 tackles-per-game also ranked an impressive sixth nationally.

When the Paladins and Keydets meet at Foster Stadium on Oct. 23, it will mark the the 40th all-time meeting between the two, with the Paladins owning the commanding 29-10 all-time series edge.

Furman has won 27 of the past 29 meetings between the two programs. However, both wins that VMI has recorded over the past three decades have come during Wachenheim’s previous seven seasons leading the program, including a 14-13 back in the spring of 2021 (2020 season) in Lexington.

Kickoff for the contest between Furman and VMI in Lexington has yet to be announced.

Oct. 30, 2022–Furman vs. Chattanooga

Furman’s Travis Blackshear interested a pass vs. Chattanooga in 2021 to thwart a first half scoring drive in Furman’s 13-3 loss in the Scenic City/Photo courtesy of Furman athletics

Ask most Furman fans what the most demoralizing SoCon game of the 2021 fall season, and probably most in unison would say the 13-3 loss at Chattanooga. Ask them what’s different about the Mocs than any other team the Paladins will face in October and most would say–DEFENSE!

That’s not just because the previous four foes during the month were among the worst in the nation, however, that is an actual fact. It’s more the Mocs were just so dominant. The Paladins could muster just 157 yards of total offense in last season’s loss in the Scenic City. The Paladins ran just 43 plays, garnered just six first downs, and were nearly doubled in time of possession (39:48-20:12) in that 10-point loss.

It’s also Furman’s homecoming game, which over the years has featured some doozies and I don’t mean that in a good way. One can point to the 1997 debacle vs.ETSU or ’98 vs. The Citadel, or more recently in 2014 vs. Samford, which saw Furman blanked 45-0!

In fact, the loss to the Mocs on that rainy Saturday during the mid-season felt almost identical to the NC State game, only the score was much closer. But it felt Furman’s offense was light years way from being able to offer any kind of threat to the Mocs, even the game remained close all afternoon.

Chattanooga’s defense was that good, and have been for the most part for the better part of a decade. You’d literally have to go back to the Rodney Allison era somewhere around 2007 to final an absolutely putrid one.

The Mocs, though, were a disappointment. Chattanooga’s talent level was not 6-5, and the Furman coaches would even tell you that the Mocs were the best team the Paladins faced in league, especially on the defensive side of the ball, yet lacked something on offense.

The Mocs’ 6-5 mark in league play meant UTC would finish third in the league when the dust settled on the season, and with losses to Mercer and The Citadel to close the season, the Mocs’ playoff fate was seemingly sealed.

The Mocs entered the 2021 fall campaign as the heavy favorites to claim the league crown after sitting out half of the previous spring for “COVID-19” concerns, which most around there were potentially ulterior at play in the form of strategy to gear up for a big run at not only the regular-season league title, but also a deep run in the FCS playoffs.

Chattanooga’s defensive line could rival any in FCS football. They are and were no joke. The rest of that defense followed suit. It may well do that again this season.

The Mocs’ football program has been in the news for all positive reasons lately, as offensive lineman Cole Strange became the first player from a SoCon school drafted in the first round of the NFL Draft since 1974, as he was the 29th overall pick by the New England Patriots.

It was not only good publicity for Chattanooga, but also the SoCon as a whole, which takes a lot of unwarranted jabs from national media about being a now also-ran conference in comparison to its former days of glory when Appalachian State and Georgia Southern called the league home.

In fact, it could be argued that Chattanooga, along with Wofford, have kind of carried the mantle of the league’s prestige programs since the Mountaineers and the Eagles decided to to move on to the Sun Belt Conference some eight years ago.

Rusty Wright’s Mocs will likely enter the season as one of if not the favorites again in the Southern Conference if UTC can get some better production out of its offense as a whole. The defense has been a constant, and that doesn’t look like changing much this season either.

At times last season, Chattanooga looked every bit the part of how they were picked to finish, handing eventual champion and bitter rival East Tennessee State its only league loss, and also narrow loss to a solid Kentucky team, which was still in the balance well into the fourth quarter.

Twelve starters are expected back for the Mocs entering the 2022 season, and several of the major pieces on both sides of the ball have decided to hang around the Scenic City for another year, which is enough to make the Mocs once again a more than capable title contender among the league’s pecking order.

If you include UTC’s specialist, a total of 15 regulars return for the 2021 fall campaign. All told, the Mocs return six starters that garnered All-SoCon honors last season, including one that earned All-America recognition.

Seven starters return to highlight a unit that should be able to rival any in FCS football this fall, including the most dominant defensive lineman in all of FCS and potentially all of Division I football (FCS or FBS) Devonsha Maxwell returning to the unit. Maxwell is seemingly unblock able with even two men at times. He’s that good. Davis Tull good.

Maxwell’s Mocs were stellar against the Paladins, which by season’s end actually turned out to be decent offensively side of the ball, as the young Jace Wilson continued to learn the Paladin offense, splitting time with Hamp Sisson, who has decided to move on and pursue a degree in the medical field.

Maxwell will lead a defensive unit that will be coming off a season which saw them rank ninth in the country in total defense (275.8 YPG). The Mocs had few weaknesses if any on defense last season, finishing 27th nationally against the run (122.3 YPG), second in passing yards allowed (153.5 YPG), 11th in scoring defense (17.1 PPG), 16th in team sacks (31.0/2.82 SPG), and 14th in passes intercepted (15/2 TDs).

Though the offense wasn’t horrible, it was certainly anything but consistent. Just five regulars return on that side of the ball for the Blue and Gold, however, like the defensive side of the ball with Maxwell, the Mocs have one of the best at his respective position in all of FCS football, in running back Ailym Ford, and while Cole Strange is now making the big bucks and eating plenty of New England Clam Chowder with his new OL teammates, the ones he left to enjoy the Choo-Choo Inn’s famous white chili together as a unit is not too shabby either, with both McClendon Curtis and Colin Truett have acted as iron sharpening iron with both being thrown into action early in their careers due to injured veterans.

Ford ended the 2022 campaign by rushing for 1,071 yards and 11 TDs last season, splitting time with veteran Tyrell Price to give the Mocs a great one-two punch in the backfield. That guy this season could be Gino Appleberry, who came up big in UTC’s spring win in 2021 at Furman, as he rushed for 85 yards and a score.

All told, the Mocs finished the 2021 fall season a decent 49th nationally on the offensive side of the ball, averaging (374.2 YPG), however, it was in those big moments when the unit seemingly faltered.

Cole Copeland heads into fall camp as the projected starter under center for UTC, but could be challenged to hold onto that starting job from guys like redshirt freshman Ty Gossett and Parker Brown.

All told, when the Paladins and Mocs tee-it-up a day before Halloween at Paladin Stadium, it will mark the 52nd all-time clash between the two tradition-rich programs, with the Paladins holding the 30-21 all-time edge, although the Mocs have won the last two.

October Prediction: It’s certainly preliminary to say too much of anything at this point. I mean, these articles usually end up showing that us so-called prognosticators know next to nothing about prophecy or football by season’s end. I’d imagine that local palm reader on Poinsett Highway heading towards Furman might do a better job were she to have Clay Hendrix stop in one day for a session…(You laughed).

Now to the seriousness of May predictions made by someone who has never played down of football at any level. That being said, I don’t need the palm reader across from Ken’s Plumbing and directly diagonal from Hakim Rugs to tell me that October is make or break for the Paladins, or pretty much any program in this great country.

It’s an eclectic mix Furman will face. Four of the five defenses the Paladins will face during the first four weeks of the month go from absolutely worst in the nation, to pretty bad, to mediocre/bad, to awful and then to outstanding. Go figure. All were good-to-great offensively last season, and all seemingly have unique schemes. It’s nightmare game prep 101 for the excellent Paladin defensive staff, headed up by defensive coordinator, Duane Vaughn.

That said, I can confidently assert that Furman will be probably be in good shape at home against both Samford and Western Carolina, and so I will at least for now, those two will be close wins.

The Citadel is tricky, and never easy to defeat anywhere. After all, they’re a rival, and those games are supposed to be close, tough and nasty. Even at that, breaking in a new quarterback could lead to some issues this season. So I’ll say Furman gets one there, too.

I think the games at VMI and at home vs Chattanooga at clearly two of the toughest games of the season. Unfortunately, I think Furman loses at least one of those games, and maybe both.

Both could be pick ’em type games.That said, I’ll say Furman goes 1-1 in those two, with a likely loss at home to the team I think will be league favorite Chattanooga. So, at 2-2 in the month of September and 4-1 in October, the Paladins’ playoff fate will be likely decided by the final two games of the season in November.

A 3-2 mark in the month of October, which is probably statistically speaking the most likely outcome according to an analytical breakdown, the Paladins are in real trouble for a playoff bid because of the Division II game against North Greenville. That’s a problem Furman hasn’t had to worry about all too often. Even at 4-1, Furman would need to win both games against Mercer and Wofford to close out the season.

The only plausible theory to avoid a perfect pressure packed November is to win at ETSU, or find a win in a game the Paladins would otherwise be an underdog in, such as the ETSU contest early in the season.

For now, I’ll say 4-1, which means Furman would head to the final month of the season with no margin for error at 6-3 overall and 4-2 in league play.

Stay tuned for the conclusion of the 2022 Furman football schedule preview coming in the very near future.

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