This week’s pick six is with Furman beat writer Scott Keeler of the Greenville (S.C.) News:
Furman is coming off a 27-10 win over rival Appalachian State, its biggest win of the year. What can you tell us about the Paladins on offense and some players to watch Saturday night?
They strive for balance offensively, but look to first establish the run typically. Junior tailback Hank McCloud has 604 yards rushing, 5.3 yards per carry and four touchdowns this year.
They’re averaging just over 150 yards a game rushing and passing. The passing game has been hampered by injuries. Sophomore starting quarterback Reese Hannon returned to the lineup last Saturday. They are 3-1 in games he’s played in. Two different true freshman quarterbacks started the other three games
They lost their leading wide receiver, Gary Robinson, for the season as he broke his ankle last Saturday.
They have an NFL prospect up front in 6-foot-5, 303-pound senior left tackle Dakota Dozier. He’s a preseason all-American and was ranked as the No. 1 tackle in the FCS by Phil Steele.
I see where DE Gary Wilkins had a 98-yard pick six last week against ASU. Tell us about him and any other players to watch for on that side of the ball.
Wilkins moved from linebacker before this season to create more speed up front, and he leads the team in sacks (3.5).
Sophomore linebackers Carl Rider and Cory Magwood are players to watch. Rider leads Furman in tackles (73) and tackles for loss (7). An ankle injury has limited Magwood to just three starts, but he has 50 tackles this season.
Sophomore starting nickel back Jairus Hollman is a very athletic player. He has 48 tackles, including four for loss, an interception, a fumble recovery, two forced fumbles and a blocked field goal.
Though it probably isn’t going to be a full house, it will be Saturday night in Tiger Stadium and the largest crowd Furman has played in front of by a factor of seven or so. Have their players expressed any excitement about playing here? Anything to compare it to in recent years?
As for comparable crowds, Furman played at Clemson (attendance 81,500) last season, at Florida (84,674) in 2011 and at South Carolina(73.681) in 2010.
They’re excited about the school’s first trip to LSU. They are aware of Furman’s history against FBS competition and usually keep scores fairly respectable.
After Division I split into I-A (now FBS) and I-AA (now FCS) in the early 1980s, they had a five-game run against I-A teams in which they went 4-0-1. There are still coaches on the current staff who were coaches on those teams, including head coach Bruce Fowler.
While they’ve gone just 1-20 against I-A/FBS teams since 1986, they’ve been competitive in many of those losses. At that game in The Swamp two years ago, Furman led 22-7 in the first quarter and trailed 37-32 entering the fourth quarter. Florida returned a pair of interceptions for touchdowns in the final quarter to pull away for the 22-point win.
That Florida team went 7-6 though, so LSU is obviously a bigger challenge.
Just exactly what is a Paladin?
A Paladin is defined in the American Heritage College Dictionary as a “paragon of chivalry; a heroic champion; a strong supporter or defender of a cause; and any of the 12 peers of French emperor Charlemagne’s court.”
More simply, Furman’s mascot is a knight in full armor (about 100 pounds worth) named “Sir Paladin” who leads the team onto the home field on a white horse name “Fury.”
With Appalachian State moving on to the Sun Belt Conference next year, and given that Furman and ASU have both won a record 12 Southern Conference titles, is there hope that Furman can re-establish itself as the league’s power broker with ASU gone?
I believe folks certainly understand that losing Appalachian State and Georgia Southern is going to be a blow to the overall state of Southern Conference football.
As for Furman, they are currently in sort of a rebuilding mode. They haven’t been to the FCS playoffs since 2006. From 1982-2006, the Paladins went to the playoffs 15 times. They reached the national championship in 1985, 1988 and 2001, winning the national title in 1988.
I think few people here or in South Carolina would give the Paladins much of a chance to win, but what do you think would make this an acceptable road trip for Furman in terms of how the Paladins play?
I think with half of the Southern Conference season remaining they certainly don’t want to have any injuries at key spots. They’ve lost a contributor for the season seemingly every week this season.
I think they’re looking to build off some things they did well last Saturday against Appalachian State. For the first time this season, they didn’t allow a sack and they also forced a season-high five turnovers. Turnovers were a point of emphasis this offseason after Furman forced only 13 all season in 2012. This season, they have five interceptions and have recovered nine of their opponents’ 21 fumbles.