College Football: Furman Set to Open Home Slate Against Coastal Carolina

John Hooper@soconjohn22Correspondent IISeptember 8, 2012

Furman Dropped A 30-23 Decision At Coastal Carolina To Open 2011 Season
Furman Dropped A 30-23 Decision At Coastal Carolina To Open 2011 Season

WHO: Coastal Carolina (1-0, 0-0 Big South) at Furman (0-1, 0-1 SoCon)

WHEN: Sept. 8, 2012, 5:00 p.m. EST

WHERE: Paladin Stadium (16,000)

Overview: Furman will open its home slate on Saturday, facing Palmetto State rival Coastal Carolina and will look to shake off the ill-effects from what was a disappointing 24-21 season-opening loss at Samford Saturday.

The game was especially heartbreaking for Paladin fans, since it was the Southern Conference opener, and a game that the Paladins could have just as well won, but four turnovers on the evening ultimately spelled the ultimate disaster.

Furman now looks to even its record against a team that upended the Paladins, 30-23, in the 2011 season opener in Conway in what was Bruce Fowler's first game as the head coach of the Furman football program. 

Coastal Carolina, meanwhile, was impressive in its season opener on Saturday, as the preseason No. 3 pick in the Big South posted a 29-13 win over North Carolina A&T to open the 2012 campaign.

Like Furman last season, the Chanticleers have a new coach, as Joe Moglia has taken the reins of the Coastal Carolina football program after David Bennett was fired last December. Moglia is one of the more interesting stories in Division I college football, coming to CCU from TD Ameritrade, as the Chairman of the Board for the Fortune 500 company.

Moglia's career on the gridiron is even more bizarre, as he has not actually served on the sidelines as a college coach in 27 years, until serving as a consultant for the Nebraska football program for their Big 12 Championship team two years ago.

Moglia hasn't served directly in a coaching or coordinator role since 1983, when he was the defensive coordinator for the Dartmouth Green for two seasons (1982-83) and prior to that, Moglia served on the Lafayette staff from 1978-80 as a defensive and special teams coach.

Prior to that, Moglia was a coach at the high school ranks. 

After such a long hiatus, Moglia got his head coaching career off to a strong start, notching a victory in his first game , which is something that not even the great Furman coach Bruce Fowler was able to do last season. 

Saturday's meeting between the Paladins and Chanticleers will mark the third all-time meeting between the two schools, with CCU holding a 2-1 all-time series edge on the strength of last season's 30-23 win. The only other meeting between the Chanticleers and Paladins at Paladin Stadium occurred back in 2007 when the Paladins were able to get a 27-17 win.

Furman will put an impressive streak on the line on Saturday evening against the Chanticleers, as the Paladins have claimed 21 straight wins over non-conference foes at Paladin Stadium, dating back to the 1999 season opener against Elon, which Furman lost 24-22.

Coastal Carolina is coming off a 7-4 2011 season and finished 3-3 in Big South play, which was good enough to help the Chants finish third in the Big South's final standings last fall. 

Preview: Last season's matchup between Furman and Coastal Carolina had plenty to keep even the neutral fan on the edge of his seat, as there were big plays on both sides and it was a close football game throughout.

Ultimately, mistakes spelled doom for the Paladins on that muggy evening in Conway a little over a year ago—a fumble by Tyler Maples that led to CCU's game-winning score and a Ray Early blocked PAT—and the 2011 season-opening loss was strangely similar to the 2011 season-opening loss by the Paladins at Samford. 

Several key performers return on both sides of the ball from last season's seven-win Coastal Carolina club.

On offense, the Chanticleers return nine starters from a unit that was efficient last season, but lacked the explosiveness that the Chanticleer offense showed in the season opener against Furman.

Last season, the Chanticleers finished the season ranking 90th nationally in total offense (323.5 YPG in 2011), 67th in scoring offense (24.6 PPG in 2011), 70th in passing offense (186.4 YPG in 2011) and 74th in rushing offense (137.2 YPG in 2011).

In last week's win , the Chanticleers showed some of that big play ability once again, finishing the contest by rolling up an impressive 437 yards of total offense, including 274 yards through the air.  

At the controls of the Coastal Carolina offense for a second-straight season is dual threat signal-caller, senior Aramis Hillary (148-of-226 passing, 1749 yds, 14 TDs passing, 5 INTs, 81 rush att, 268 yds, 7 TDs rushing in 2011).

Hillary, now in his second season as the full-time starter, was nothing short of impressive in the season-opening win, completing 19-of-28 passes for 274 yards, with a TD and a pair of INTs. 

Against Furman last season, Hillary led the CCU offense to one of its four 400-yard offensive efforts of the 2011 campaign, accounting for 194 of CCU's 426 yards total offensive yards, and maybe even more importantly, led a turnover-free evening for the Chanticleer offense. 

Hillary, one of seven returning starters on the offensive side of the ball for CCU, will have some all-league weapons at his disposal once again this fall, including wide receiver Matt Hazel (32 rec, 488 yds, 6TDs, 15.2 YPR in 2011), and one of the nation’s top tight ends, David Duran (5 rec, 75yds), who was granted a sixth year of eligibility after an injury cut his season short after just four games last fall. 

Hazel got his 2012 season off to an outstanding start, as he hauled in three passes for 57 yards and a score. Duran had a couple of catches for three yards.

Last season against Furman, Hazel was Coastal's second-leading receiver, hauling in three passes for 41 yards, including a 39-yard reception, in the seven-point win. 

The most impressive receiving performance by the Chanticleers last Saturday was the one put forth by Nick Mastromatteo. Mastromatteo was Coastal Carolina's leading option when the Chanticleers went to the air, as Mastromatteo hauled in seven passes for 114 yards.

He has the kind of speed and elusiveness that could cause the Furman defense some struggles on Saturday.

Mastromatteo is coming off a 2011 season which saw him haul in 27 passes for 512 yards as a reserve receiver in 11 games. As a punt return threat a couple of years ago, Mastromatteo averaged 8.8 yards-per-return last fall. 

Mastromatteo will start at the slot receiver position for the Chanticleers on Saturday night. 

Mastromatteo was a pretty solid kick return threat against the Paladins last season, with four returns for 88 yards, including a 39-yard return after a Furman first-half TD.

Rounding out the starters at wide receiver on Saturday night for CCU will be South Carolina transfer DeMario Bennett.

Bennett, a 6-2, 190-pound junior is a big play threat in the Chanticleer offense, and is coming off a solid season opener with CCU, as he hauled in three passes for 39 yards and averaged 13.0 YPR. 

Bennett was suspended for the first half of the 2011 season, but in eight games last fall, he performed solidly in his role as a reserve, catching 14 passes for 164 yards and a couple of scores. Bennett also threw a TD pass last season, hooking up with Hazel on a 32-yard strike in the loss to Liberty.

One of the areas that wasn't necessarily a strength for CCU last fall was the running game, as the Chanticleers were just 74th in the FCS in rushing offense, averaging just 137.2 YPG on the ground last fall. 

In the 30-23 win over Furman last season, CCU ended the contest by rushing for 231 yards, which stood as the top rushing performance of the season until the Chanticleers faced two of the worst rushing defenses in the nation—Charleston Southern and Western Carolina. 

The Chanticleers fielded a balanced ground game against the Paladins last season and Jeremy Height (57 rush att, 197 yds, 3.5 YPC in 2011) headlines that ground attack this fall. 

It was Height that hurt the Paladins the most last season, leading the Chanticleers in receiving (3 rec, 43 yds) and ranking second in rushing (17 rush att, 59 yds) in the 30-23 win . 

In the win over North Carolina A&T last Saturday, it was a career night for the senior running back, amassing a career high 109 rushing yards on 20 carries, including a 22-yard first half scoring run.

Height also had three receptions for 37 yards.

Another significant senior role player on the offensive side of the football on Saturday might be running back Marcus Whitener (60 rush att, 318 yds, 5.3 YPC), who will spell Height in the backfield for CCU on Saturday night.

Former Furman offensive line standout Patrick Covington has done a solid job in fostering talent in the trenches as the Chanticleers' offensive line coach over the past few seasons.

This fall, Covington welcomes the return of four starters to a veteran front that is anchored by preseason All-Big South left tackle Jamey Cheatwood. Cheatwood was part of that front that looked dominant at times against the Paladins last season.

The strength of the 2012 Furman football team is no doubt its defense, with eight starters returning, including four preseason First or Second Team All-SoCon selections. The strength of the defense this season is the defensive line, as all four starters return from last season's unit.

The quartet up front is anchored by bookends Shawn Boone and Josh Lynn.

The two were impressive in the season opener against CCU last season, especially Boone, who turned in his top performance of the 2011 season in that contest,  recording six tackles, two tackles-for-loss and a sack.

Boone has good speed, quickness and overall athleticism and is one of the top athletes on the Paladin defense.

In the season opener against Samford last Saturday, Boone recorded three tackles and a couple of quarterback hurries.

Lynn, a preseason First Team All-SoCon pick, was also strong in last year's loss to Coastal Carolina, registering five tackles, 1.5 TFL and a sack.

Lynn had five tackles last week, but both he and Boone were held without a sack.

Coming into his senior season, Lynn has recorded 21.5 TFL and seven sacks. Boone and Lynn combined for over a third of the team's 21 sacks last fall, as the defensive end duo registered a combined eight sacks on the campaign—Lynn with a team-leading five sacks, Boone with three sacks. 

The two veterans that will start at defensive tackle on Saturday afternoon will be Neal Rodgers and Colton Keig.

Going into the 2011 season opener against CCU, the defensive interior was thought to be a weakness for the Paladins and Furman was undersized at both positions.

As the season progressed, however, it was clear that Rodgers and Keig were holding their own along the Furman defensive front and the duo became two of the more underrated defensive tackles in the SoCon.

Rodgers was outstanding against Coastal Carolina last season, playing one of the best games of his career.  He recorded five tackles and a TFL in the seven-point loss.

In Saturday's season opener, it was Keig who had a career afternoon, recording six tackles and 0.5 TFL in the three-point loss. Rodgers did not register a tackle in the season opener.

Another area that seems to have a bright future is the Furman linebacking corps, which graduated two of three starters. The one veteran who returns is one of the top linebackers in the SoCon, preseason Second Team All-SoCon LB Mitch McGrath. 

McGrath is a real difference-maker on this defense for the Paladins and he was impressive in the loss at Samford, recording 13 tackles. 

McGrath is coming off an excellent 2011 season, recording 87 tackles, 13.5 TFL, four sacks and four INTs. In many ways, McGrath is the key to this unit and one of the reasons I believe that Furman will have one of the best defenses in the Southern Conference this fall. 

Joining McGrath at linebacker in the starting lineup on Saturday will be veteran Matt Solomon at middle linebacker, while Gary Wilkins is slated to start at the other OLB position.

Some CCU folks might remember Wilkins from last season's encounter, as he continuously pressured the Chanticleers' punter and even partially blocked one CCU punt.

He is one of the top athletes on the defensive side of the ball and is coming off a 10-tackle performance in the season-opener against Samford.

Solomon has waited three seasons for the opportunity to start in the middle of the Furman defense and the hard-hitting senior now finally gets his chance, as he will be making the third start of his career on Saturday.

He had eight tackles and broke up a pair of passes in the Paladins' loss at Samford.

The secondary is not the unit it was last season, at least at the cornerback position, but there is plenty of talent returning at each of the safety positions.

All-SoCon tandem Greg Worthy and Nathan Wade are both big hitters in the Furman secondary, and both were relatively quiet in the season opener at Samford last week. Worthy completed the season opener with five stops, while Wade had eight tackles and a PBU.

This duo could play a huge role in Saturday's contest. Wade did not play in last season's meeting with CCU, serving a four-game suspension to begin the season. 

Rounding out the starters in the Furman secondary this fall will be Derrick Murray and veteran Cortez Johnson.

Murray, who played opposite Steed as a starter last season, looked shaky in the season opener against Samford, yielding a couple of big passing plays to the Bulldogs. He had good coverage on one of the pass plays, but mistimed his jump, allowing the Samford receiver to come down with the football.

He finished the game with a pair of tackles.

Johnson is one of the fastest players on the Paladin roster and is also one of the veteran leaders of the secondary, even though he has played most of his career as a reserve.

Last week against Samford, he posted five stops.

The defensive side of the football sees some impressive talent returning for the Chanticleers. 

The defense lost an All-American CB to graduation and the NFL, but seven starters return to a unit that ranked 57th nationally in total defense (355.2 YPG) and 74th in scoring defense (27.9 PPG) last season.

The Chanticleers will utilize a 4-2-5 defensive scheme against the Paladins on Saturday.

One of the veteran anchors of the CCU defense heading into Saturday's matchup will be defensive end Quinton Davis (39 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 2.0 sacks in 2011), who was one of the key pieces of the defensive line last season. 

He has started 23 of 26 games for the Chanticleers. Last season, Davis was able to record three tackles and 1.5 TFL against the Paladins.

In the season opener against North Carolina A&T, he was held to just one tackle.

Teaming with Davis at defensive end on Saturday will be Jamel Davis (20 tackles, 3.0 TFL, 1.0 sack in 2011).

Davis is another athletic presence along the defensive front for the Chanticleers and was solid in the season opener with three tackles from his bookend position. Davis will be making his 14th start for the Chanticleers on Saturday.

In the win over Furman last season, Davis recorded four tackles and a sack.

The defensive interior will be anchored by both Jeffery Salley (14 tackles, 1.0 TFL, 1.0 sack, 1 FF, 1 FR in 2011) and Johnny Hartsfield (22 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 1.0 sack in 2011).

Both Salley and Hartsfield recorded three tackles in last week's win over the Aggies. 

Salley will be making just his second start for CCU on Saturday, having played as a reserve in his freshman season. Salley had a tackle and also made one of the biggest plays of the 2011 meeting between the two teams when he recorded a Tyler Maples fumble in the fourth quarter to set up CCU's game-winning score. 

Hartsfield will be making his ninth start for the Chanticleers on Saturday. 

The senior is coming off a solid performance last week, as he posted three tackles and half-a-tackle-for-loss.

Defensive end Chris Thomas (30 tackles, 8.5 TFL, 3.5 sacks in 2011) was a Second Team All-Big South pick last season and will be a key player once again this season as a reserve at bookend.

Linebacker was a strength for CCU last season, and this season should be no different, with the unit anchored by strong-side LB Mike McClure (36 tackles, 2.0 TFL, 1.0 sack, 1 FF, 1 PBU).

He ended up leading the defensive efforts for the Chanticleers in the season opener with 12 stops and 3.5 TFL in what was a strong performance against the MEAC foe.

McClure has spent the past couple of seasons as a reserve LB and is slated to make just his second start in his 20th career game for CCU on Saturday.

In the win over the Paladins last season, McClure posted three tackles, a TFL, and broke up a pass in action as a reserve.

His 12 tackles last week were a career best, eclipsing his previous career standard of eight tackles in a loss to Gardner-Webb last fall. 

Completing the starting duo at LB on Saturday for the Chanticleers will be Quinn Backus (31 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 0.5 sack, 1 FR in 2011), who will patrol the middle of the CCU defense at middle linebacker.

Backus was able to join McClure in double digit tackles, as he registered 10 stops in their season-opening victory.

Backus is another player that will be making just his second start on Saturday.  Against the Paladins last season, Backus did not see action.

One of the second string surprises on the depth chart is 2010 Big South Defensive Player of the Year and two-time All-Big South honoree, middle linebacker Andrae Jacobs (46 tackles, 10.0 TFL, 4.0 sacks).

Jacobs had three tackles and a TFL against the Paladins last season.  In action as a reserve last week, Jacobs recorded three tackles and half-a-tackle-for-loss.

The Coastal Carolina secondary gave up some big yardage last week on big plays by the Aggies, but the unit also made its fair share of big plays, most of which came from the Sports Network's National Player of the Week Dontavais Johnson (13 tackles, 5 FRs in 2011), picking off three passes.

Additionally, the senior cornerback also recorded a tackle. 

Starting at the other CB position for the Chanticleers on Saturday night will be another senior, Tre Henderson (21 tackles, 1.0 TFL, 3 PBUs in 2011).

Henderson is another playmaker in the secondary and he opened the 2012 season with five tackles. 

The two starters at safety will be a pair of juniors, Phillip George (40 tackles, 2.0 TFL, 1.0 sack, 1 INT, 1 FR in 2011) and Johnnie Houston (49 tackles, 2.0 TFL, 2 INTs in 2011).

Both are veterans and enter having been staples as starters in the CCU secondary since about the middle of last season.

George finished the season opener against the Aggies with six tackles and Houston tallied one stop.

Furman will counter with an offense that seemed to gain its footing as the game progressed last Saturday. The Paladins are led by Conway, S.C.-native Dakota Derrick, the senior signal-caller looking for a measure of redemption after struggling in the season opener. 

He also has a chance to get a win over his hometown school.

In the 24-21 setback to Samford in the season-opener, Derrick connected on 11-of-25 passes for 201 yards and a TD with three INTs, and rushed for 22 yards on 11 attempts.

Derrick hasn't had much experience coming into Saturday night's battle against the Chanticleers, having completed 39-of-83 passes for 501 yards in his career, with four TDs and four INTs.  He rushed for 273 yards and three scores.

Derrick will be making his fourth career start on Saturday.  He has a 1-3 record as a starter.

Derrick saw limited action against CCU last season, relieving Chris Forcier, who had to leave the contest with cramps. 

Certainly CCU fans will remember senior running back Jerodis Williams, who really had a game in the 2011 season opener, one that would catapult him to the first 1,000-yard rushing season by a Furman running back since 2003.

All Williams did in the opener against the Chanticleers last season was rush for 141 yards and three TDs on 16 carries to garner Sports Network National Player of the Week accolades. 

In Furman's loss last week, Williams rushed for 98 yards and a score on 20 carries.

For his career, Williams has rushed for 2,025 yards—he's currently tied for 10th on Furman's all-time rushing ledger. 

The second part of that rushing attack is Hank McCloud, who will be Williams' heir apparent in the offensive backfield for the Paladins next season. 

McCloud runs hard and is explosive with good speed.

In the season-opener against Samford, McCloud rushed seven times for 28 yards. 

Wide receiver has been one of the biggest question marks for the Paladins this season and it was a position that was shaky at times last Saturday.

Obviously, when mentioning the Paladins corps of receivers, it begins and ends with All-American tight end Colin Anderson.

Anderson was relatively quiet in the season opener against the Bulldogs last week, but he did manage to haul in a 41-yard pass in the third quarter and finish the contest with two catches for 56 yards.

For his career, Anderson has hauled in 62 passes for 1,099 yards and 11 TDs.

Anderson had four catches for 36 yards against the Chanticleers last season.

Wideout Gary Robinson will make just his second start at wide receiver on Saturday for the Paladins. 

He has the type of game-breaking speed that could be a factor as a big-play threat. He will be looking to make his first reception as a collegiate wide receiver. 

One of the players that should be getting the ball more is split end Ryan Culbreath, who might have the best hands of any Furman wideout. 

Culbreath hauled in three passes for 53 yards on Saturday and posted four receptions for 40 yards in last season's loss to the Chanticleers. 

Rounding out the inexperienced receiving corps for Furman is senior Will King, who has spent most of his Paladin career catching punts rather than catching passes.

He was effective and reliable in Furman's season opener, however, as he hauled in four passes for 89 yards, including a 36-yard scoring pass from Derrick.

King doesn't have blazing speed, but he is elusive. 

One of the most pleasant surprises of the season opener for Furman fans was the solid play of its offensive line, which asked the most questions of any unit heading into the season.

Despite starting a walk-on, center Eric Thoni, and left guard Tank Phillips for the first time, the Paladins rushed for 179 yards on the day and only allowed one sack. 

Furman is anchored up front by All-America candidate Dakota Dozier at left tackle. 

Final Prediction: Furman has shown it can play well at home in its tradition-rich football history, especially against non-conference foes, recording 21 straight wins over such teams. The Paladins should have a good crowd on hand and they will be treated to what has become a nice Palmetto State rivalry.

Could this be a preview of a future Southern Conference affair?

There's always that possibility, but that would be a few years down the road. As for tomorrow's game, I look for Furman to win, breaking open a close game in the fourth quarter to win by 10-14 points. 

24-14, Furman


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