Furman set for final non-conference game at Charleston Southern

Furman and Charleston Southern have met only once before in 2019/photo courtesy of Furman athletics

Furman looks to improve to 3-1 on the young 2022 season, as it heads to Charleston Southern for its final non-conference game of the slate. It will mark just the second all-time meeting between the Paladins and Buccaneers, with two having met to open the 2019 season, with the Paladins claiming what was a 46-13 decision in that particular contest.

The Bucs are off to an 0-3 start, having faced three solid opponents so far on the young season, having taken on Southern Conference member Western Carolina (L, 38-52), North Carolina State (L, 3-55) and Eastern Kentucky (L, 17-40).

Charleston Southern is led by former Notre Dame star running back Autry Denson (12-17), who is now his fourth season at the helm. In fact, the last time the Paladins and Bucs met also turned out to be Denson’s first game as the head coach of the Bucs. Denson is still the all-time leading rusher in the storied history of Fighting Irish football.

While the Paladins came into the season with 15 returning starters (8-offense, 7-defense), Charleston Southern came into the season with 11 regulars (4-offense, 7-defense) from a team that finished 4-6 overall, which included a 3-4 record in the Big South, which was good enough for a four-way tie for third. The Bucs are projected to finish third again this season in the preseason Big South poll.

A home win Saturday would help put an end to what is a four-game losing streak for the Bucs, which dates back to a 56-7 setback to eventual national champion Georgia in the 2021 regular-season finale.

For Furman head coach Clay Hendrix (33-24) –now in his sixth season at the helm of the Paladin football program–a win Saturday on the road would give the Paladins a 3-1 start to the campaign, which would match his best start during his time as the head coach. The Paladins also got off to a 3-1 start to the COVID-19 shortened 2020 campaign, which was played in the spring of 2021.

In the only other meeting between the Paladins and Bucs, Furman was able to amass 509 yards of total offense, which included 369 yards on the ground en route to what ended up being a lopsided victory. The 46 points scored by the Paladins turned out to be the most points scored by the Paladins against an NCAA Division I FCS opponent.

The one common opponent so far between Furman and Charleston Southern is Western Carolina. Obviously, the Paladins have yet to face the Catamounts in a game as of yet, however, it’s an opponent that on film that is at least recognizable to the Paladin coaching staff in terms of scheme.

In the loss to the Catamounts, the Bucs were impressive in some areas. CSU was able to rack up 481 yards of total offense in the loss to the Catamounts, getting 342 of those yards through the air.

That’s been the primary mode of operation for the Bucs offense this season, as CSU comes into Saturday’s non-conference clash averaging 254.3 yards-per-game through the air.

The Bucs come in averaging a total of 318.2 YPG to go with 19.3 PPG, and are led by quarterback Ross Malmgren, who has connected on 67-of-115 passes for 703 yards, with six touchdowns and four picks.

The Bucs have a pair of talented wideouts to keep an eye on, as four wideouts have at least 120 yards receiving through the first three games of the season. Seth Anderson (18 rec, 268 yds, 3 TDs, 14.8 YPR), TJ Ruff (12 rec, 137 yds, 1 TD, 11.4 YPR), Cayden Jordan (7 rec, 124 yds, 17.7 YPR) and Vinson Dale (21 rec, 21 rec, 120 yds, 2 TDs, 5.7 YPR) have been the primary targets offensively for Malmgren in the CSU passing attack this season. Cayden Jordan was a preseason All-Big South pick.

The 254.3 passing yards per game for the Bucs ranks them as the 27th-best passing attack in the FCS this season. The leading ground option for CSU this season has been TJ Ruff (30 rush att, 101 yds, 3.4 YPC), however, the Bucs are averaging just 56.3 YPG on the ground this season, which ranks 120th out of 122 teams ranked in FCS football in rushing output per game. Ruff has been equally a threat as a receiving option out of the CSU backfield, as noted above.

Defensively, as you might expect, the Bucs have struggled to stop the caliber of offenses they have faced in their first three games this season, and that task will not be lessened by the fact that Furman visits Ladson on Saturday afternoon. The Bucs are surrendering 49.0 PPG (119th in FCS) and 534.0 YPG (118th in FCS) in total defense so far through the first three games of the season.

The leaders on the defensive side of the football for the Bucs are defensive end Anton Williams (7 tackles) and middle linebacker Garrett Sayegh (20 tackles, 1.0 TFL). Both were chosen as preseason All-Big South selections. Williams is currently tied for fourth in program history in sacks, having posted an impressive 16.5 sacks in his CSU career.

Hombre Kennedy (16 tackles, 1 FF), who rounds out the trio of All-Big South selections on defense, anchors the CSU secondary at safety. Kennedy is one of the veterans still around from the 2019 meeting between the two teams, as he posted seven stops for the Bucs defense in the 2019 season opener.

Furman counters with an offense that has been outstanding so far through the first three games of the season. Leading that offense for the Paladins this season is quarterback Tyler Huff (65-of-92 passing, 666 yds, 5 TDs, 1 INT/27 rush att, 217 yds, 1 TD, 8.0 YPC). The PC grad transfer leads a Paladin offense that currently ranks 12th nationally in total offense (460.7 YPG). The 460.7 YPG is tied with Eastern Kentucky, who the Bucs just played last week. Huff comes in leading the Southern Conference in total offense, having totaled 883 yards of total offense so far this season.

While Huff currently leads the Paladins in rushing this season, the top ground option has been Dominic Roberto (29 rush att, 159 yds, 3 TDs, 5.5 YPC), who sealed last Saturday’s win over East Tennessee State with a 46-yard touchdown run.

Roberto has tag-teamed the ground attack with Devin Abrams (21 rush att, 85 yds, 4.0 YPC), as the senior also can be a dual threat as a receiving threat coming out of the backfield, hauling three passes for 45 yards so far in 2022.

Abrams posted seven carries for 35 yards and a score against the Bucs in the 2019 meeting.

Huff is blessed with several options to throw to in the passing game, with two-time All-American Ryan Miller (22 rec, 219 yds, 3 TDs, 10.0 YPR) being the top option, while Joshua Harris (14 rec, 141 yds, 10.1 YPR) is starting to come into his own in this his sophomore season for the Paladins.

Miller extended his school-record for consecutive games with a touchdown reception in last Saturday night’s 27-14 win over East Tennessee State, hauling in five passes for 39 yards and touchdown. Miller’s streak of TD receptions in six-straight games breaks a record, which was originally set by Chas Fox (1985) and tied by Colin Anderson (2011) and Andy Schumpert (2017).

Furman has a veteran offensive line, which entered the season with four returning starters along its offensive front. The Paladins are anchored up front by a pair of all-conference selections, in offensive tackles Anderson Tomlin and Pearson Toomey.

The defense has been solid this season, and through the first three games of the 2022 season, the Paladins 25th nationally in total defense (318.3 YPG) and 16th in scoring defense (16.3 PPG).

Leading the Paladin defensive line has been Matt Sochovka (4 tackles, 1.0 TFL, 2 QBHs) and Cameron Coleman (6 tackles, 1.0 TFL, 1 QBH), as both were preseason All-SoCon picks. Both were influential in last Saturday night’s road win at East Tennessee State, especially in the second half of the game, as the Paladins seemingly got more pressure on ETSU signal-caller Tyler Riddell as the game progressed.

Furman’s LBs don’t put up huge numbers, but all four across the middle of the defense are solid, and the Paladins have some quality depth at all three levels of the defense. Bryce McCormick (18 tackles, 1.0 TFL, 1 QBH) and Braden Gilby (13 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 QBH) form the teeth of the Paladin defense in the middle, while Luke Clark (6 tackles, 1.0 TFL, 1.0 sacl) and Jalen Miller (6 tackles, 1 INT) provide solid play at outside linebacker. Miller came up with a key INT, which thwarted a potential ETSU scoring drive in the win over the 18th-ranked Bucs.

The secondary may well be the deepest part of the Furman defense, with the unit anchored by preseason first-team All-SoCon selection Travis Blackshear (8 tackles, 2 TFLs, 1 PBU) at cornerback.

Evidence of Furman’s depth within its secondary was provided by Dominic Morris (5 tackles, 1.0 INT, 3 PBUs) in the win over ETSU last time out, as Morris was entered the game for Blackshear, who was suffering from cramps, and he recorded a pair of pass breakups and a crucial INT to help the Paladins close out their first win over a ranked foe since 2007.

The Paladins have a pair of the SoCon’s best safeties, in Hugh Ryan (19 tackles, 0.5 TFL, 1 FF, 2 PBU, 1 INT) and Kam Brinson (4 tackles, 1 INT, 1 PBU, 1 FR). Both played a major role in Furman’s Road win to open SoCon play last weekend, with Ryan recording his fifth-career INT on the second offensive play from scrimmage, while Brinson registered a fumble recovery and had a big hit, which caused a pass breakup and subsequent INT by Jalen Miller to put an end to a potential scoring drive for ETSU, turning the tide of the game.

Final Thoughts and Prediction: Furman hasn’t played Charleston Southern since 2019, but I look for the Paladins to continue their momentum going forward with a matchup against ranked SoCon foe Samford in what looms as a potentially huge SoCon home opener between a pair of ranked teams should the Paladins take care of business in Ladson on Saturday afternoon. I think they will, winning on the road in emphatic fashion.

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