Furman’s football defense is a strong contender for the Southern Conference
The one area in which Furman’s football coach Clay Hendrix was perhaps most confident in his team this fall was his depth. This was on display on Saturday night in the Paladins’ 24-14 win over The Citadel, but not in the way you might imagine.
Depth is often viewed in the football sense as the wear and tear of a team and the control of the clock throughout a game. With a host of experienced running backs, Furman is certainly built to win that way. But on Saturday, his depth showed in defense, which withstood an 89-game attack from Citadel.
“I think we’re a lot more talented defensively than we have been in the past,” said Hendrix. “We didn’t get to see him much in the spring (season which was postponed from 2020) due to the shortened season and lack of wear and tear from the heat.
Furman’s offense was a quick strike in the first quarter on Saturday, scoring 17 points without a practice for over 64 seconds. But it was a quick extinction for much of the rest of the game. Combined with the Bulldogs’ cheerful offense that left Furman at a 16-minute possession time disadvantage, as the Citadel had 37 other offensive shots.
A Furman defense that was down four season opener starters before Saturday lost starting middle linebacker Braden Gilby four games in the game. But the Paladins kept the Bulldogs 40 yards rushing below their average. On 72 rushing attempts, Citadel had just 3.3 yards per carry and was 0-for-4 on fourth down conversions.
“It certainly puts your willpower and stamina to the test, but at the end of the day it’s about winning,” said co-captain Elijah McKoy, who made his first start since 2019. “Defensively, we are on our side. we call it the ‘back gang’ because we’re always looking to respond. … Whatever the situation, we bend but don’t break.
McKoy was one of Furman’s top three tackles on Saturday. The other two came out of the bench.
Second-year linebacker Dan Scianna, who supports Gilby, had a high of 12 tackles. Second-year linebacker Bryce McCormick made 10 tackles and forced a fumble with 1:44 left that sealed the victory. McKoy also made 10 saves, as well as a sack, two tackles for loss, a forced fumble and a recovery fumble.
Scianna credited inside linebacker coach Ken Lamendola for the success of the Bulldogs defense.
“Coach Lamendola always preaches the ‘next man’ mentality,” said Scianna. “He treats us all like we’re going to be the guy who comes in, so we have a lot of reps in training. I think the linebacker group has probably the hardest workers, but we also believe in each other. “
Hendrix said he believes there are positions on the football team that could be development types. He believes the offensive line is like that, but so is the inside linebacker.
“You get a guy who might not be as talented as the rest of them, but if he really understands what his role is and what he’s doing, it works,” Hendrix said. . … He and Nicky both do a great job of lining up everyone and making all the calls. They just see things better.
Reserve defensive end Freshman Bryce Stanfield had seven tackles, including a sack in the last game of the game, and a rushed quarterback. Stanfield is not on the two-depth depth chart.
Towards the midpoint of the SoCon calendar, no team is undefeated in the league. Furman (4-2, 2-1) is one of five teams to have suffered a loss in the league. Having played against SoCon’s three most runner-up teams at Mercer, Wofford and Citadel, the Paladins are fourth in the league in rush defense with 162.3 yards per game. While these enemies have offenses designed to be heavy on the run, Furman faces a different kind of test against running each of the next two weeks.
The Paladins will face four of the FCS’s top 46 riders when they host ETSU at 2 p.m. Saturday, before traveling to preseason favorite Chattanooga on October 30. Chattanooga (3-3, 2-1) handed the ETSU (6-1, 3-1) their first loss last Saturday.
The Bucs are led by Quay Holmes, who ranks second in the nation in rushing with 814 yards and nine touchdowns. His teammate Jacob Saylors ranks 26th with 522 yards and seven touchdowns. Running isn’t the only way for the ETSU tandem to excel as Holmes (140.7) and Saylors (139.3) are sixth and seventh, respectively, in total attack. Each has touched down a touchdown this season and Saylors are averaging 29.7 yards per kick return with no touchdown advantage to increase that average.
“There is no option item to deal with this week. In these types of games you can get your ears stuck a bit defensively and I think it’s a little easier to play faster, ”said Hendrix. “It’s a pretty straightforward pro-style attack, but both fullbacks are really good. They made several big plays on screen and they have a really big offensive line. … They’re definitely better in the passing game than they were in the spring, so you need to cover all of your bases.