GREENVILLE, S.C.--When Furman takes the field on Saturday against No.5 Wofford, it won't be a team that rests on the laurels of the late 1990's and the early 2000's.
A decade ago, Furman ended Wofford's playoff and SoCon title hopes with a 23-21 win in Spartanburg against a Terrier team that was ranked in the Top 10 for the first time in its Division I history, as the Terriers were ranked at No. 10 heading into that contest. It was unfamiliar territory for Ayers' suddenly successful pups.
A win would have handed Wofford its first Southern Conference title since joining the league as an official member in 1997, but Brian Bratton's diving catch in the back of the end zone ended Wofford's hopes of a title and inaugural Division I-AA playoff bid in bitter fashion.
A year later, the Terriers would officially stake their claim as the FCS program in the state, as No. 4 Wofford claimed a 7-6 win over No. 25 Furman to finish the Southern Conference slate unbeaten and claim its first outright league title.
From that point forward, Wofford's success would only grow, and its inclusion in SoCon Title and playoff conversations would go from being awkward to commonplace. In fact, since the end of that 2002 season, the balance of power between the two Palmetto State FCS programs has seen a significant shift, even though Furman would win a SoCon title in 2004 and win 21 games over the next couple of seasons.
Counting the 2003 title, Wofford has won three Southern Conference titles, owns a 75-37 overall record, a 46-24 league mark and has made five FCS playoff appearances, including two straight and four of the past five seasons.
Since Bratton's diving catch in the back of the end zone, Furman has won one Southern Conference title, posted a 67-44 overall record, a 44-26 mark against league foes and three playoff appearances, with the last being in 2006. It's clear to see the shift of the balance of power between the two Upstate South Carolina football rivals.
The Paladins and Terriers have met nine times since that rain-soaked afternoon at Gibbs Stadium, with Furman holding a narrow 5-4 advantage on the strength of a 26-21 win over the Terriers in Greenville last season. However, Furman will once again enter the game unranked, and to some, with no chance at picking up a win over its FCS neighbor just down the road.
One of the things that has made Mike Ayers-coached teams so successful over the years has been toughness, and that is an element that has been brought out more and more in now his 15th year as a head coach in Wofford's Southern Conference era.
His teams have played with a chip on their shoulder, and he coaches the team to take on many of the characteristics of its school mascot, as the Terriers are feisty and bothersome to foes who face them. Ayers sets his players on edge from the beginning, and his mission has to be a team that is about discipline and execution rather than talent.
Many times in the past, Ayers has preached the same message—they don't have the same athletes as these other schools, which is true to some extent, but not entirely accurate. So his players are taught that they are "overlooked" during the recruiting process, and thus have something to prove. That has been nothing short of brilliant over the years, and for the most part, the Terriers have won by "out-executing" their foes rather than winning on talent alone.
In recent years, Furman has taken the field against SoCon foes, most particularly teams like Wofford and The Citadel, and it has rested on its past laurels when facing teams with lesser football traditions. Furman didn't regard those as rivalries, and prior to Fowler's arrival was blinded by its past accomplishments.
Something is different now. Furman has just an 8-8 record under the direction of Fowler in just 1.5 seasons, but now the program plays with an edge, much like those Ayers teams have done and continue to do. It's a realization that "we are no longer who we were, but we want to be where past teams have been." It's a realization that something has changed, and the Paladins play with an anger they didn't have prior to the arrival of Fowler.
While Furman has not has had the success that Wofford has had in the recent past, Fowler is instilling a mentality of his own since taking the helm last season, centered upon two things: "relentlessness" and "controlling what you can control."
Furman exhibited both of those characteristics in Saturday's 45-24 win over Western Carolina. When All-Southern Conference running back Jerodis Williams fumbled just before reaching the end zone and the Paladins turned over the ball, it was clear something was different.
Williams was angry slamming his fist into the Paladin Stadium turf, visibly disturbed by his miscue that had cost Furman a certain opening score. Williams had to wait for a WCU field goal before he could get his hands on the ball again, and when he did, he sprinted 100 yards angrily in the direction of that same end zone, giving the Paladins a 7-3 lead.
Williams didn't just stop there, scoring another two TDs in the first half, including an 89-yarder, and a run midway through the second quarter that saw him deliver a blow that knocked the helmet off one of the Catamounts showed how Williams dealt with his early mishap. He met it head on in relentless fashion, and he controlled the situation by no letting it define his overall performance of the game. It wasn't going to cost Furman the game, and he made sure of it.
At the end of the day that started with a nightmare for Williams and Furman, Williams had a career-best 239 yard rushing effort, and helped Furman post its most offensive yards (619) and most rushing yards (389) in a single game since the 2003 regular-season finale win at Chattanooga.
In Furman's six losses against FCS foes under Fowler, Furman has lost by double-digits only once, and that was a 50-20 loss at top-ranked Georgia Southern last season. In its other five losses to FCS foes under Fowler, Furman has lost by a combined 24 points, which is a little less than five points per game.
It's fair to say Furman doesn't have the talent of some of those teams that were last competitive at the top of the league's pecking order for the first seven seasons of the new millennium, however, the Paladins will bring their a collection of young talent to Wofford on Saturday that probably reminds Furman fans of the 1987 Paladins--a team loaded with young talent, yet not quite to the level of enjoying its full potential as of yet. That full potential would come in the form of the school's national title a year later.
No, I am not saying that Furman will win a national title in 2013, but what I am saying is that Furman is a team that becomes dangerous for the league's top teams, such as Wofford and Georgia Southern. Furman is playing loose, and playing like a team that isn't scared of making mistakes, because when they are making them, they have had a short memory, as was the case was Williams and his early miscue last Saturday.
Furman is playing for this season, and while it acknowledges the tradition of the school's decorated past on the gridiron, it's busy creating the next chapter of that tradition instead of resting on the accomplishments of those who came before.
WHO: Furman (2-3, 1-1 SoCon) at No. 6 Wofford (4-0, 2-0 SoCon)
WHEN: Oct. 6, 2012, 1:30 p.m.
WHERE: Spartanburg, S.C., Gibbs Stadium (8,250)
Game Preview: Having won two-straight games, Furman heads to Spartanburg to face a Wofford team which is off to its best start as a Division I member and best start to a season since 1991.
Saturday's meeting between the Paladins and Terriers will mark the 86th meeting between the two Upstate South Carolina football rivals, with Furman coming into the contest holding a 51-27-7 all-time series edge. The two schools first met in 1889, with the Terriers taking a 5-1 win in what is the first official game between two colleges in the history of the Palmetto State.
The Paladins and Terriers have met 15 times as Southern Conference rivals, with Furman holding a 10-5 advantage since the Terriers' first official season as a SoCon member in 1997. The Paladins have lost their last two outings at Gibbs Stadium, which includes a 38-17 setback in 2010. In Bruce Fowler's first season at the helm, Furman was able to upset No. 4 Wofford, 26-21, in Greenville. Furman's last win in Spartanburg came back in 2006, as the Paladins were able to pick up an impressive 35-21 win in Spartanburg.
Wofford comes into Saturday afternoon's clash with the Paladins off a record-setting Saturday against Elon last week, as it posted a 49-24 road win over the Phoenix. Furman, meanwhile, was able to notch its seventh-straight win over Western Carolina, with a 45-24 win over the Catamounts.
It's a bit unusual to say, but Wofford has one of the most prolific offenses in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS), and it rarely puts the football in the air. The Terriers enter Saturday afternoon's contest against the Paladins ranking second in the nation in total offense (549.2 YPG), first in rushing offense (485.2 YPG), second in scoring offense (53.5 PPG), and 120th in passing offense (64.0 YPG).
The Terriers have scored no less than 34 points in any game this season, and have posted an average margin of victory of over 40 points per game through the first four games. Wofford has already scored 214 points through the first four games of the season. The school record for points in a season is 444 set by the 2007 Terriers, meaning the Terriers need just 231 points over the next seven games to set a new school scoring record.
Wofford is one of three teams in the SoCon that utilizes the triple option offense, joining The Citadel and Georgia Southern in that regard. Ayers' Terriers probably offer the most diverse scheme of the three, as Wofford will utilize several different formations on Saturday.
The Terriers will operate out of the shotgun, with wingbacks, which was introduced by offensive coordinator Wade Lang prior to the 2007 season, and the Wofford offense has become much less predictable and much more versatile as a result of Lang's tweak. The Terriers have also added several new wrinkles to the offense since Lang's implementation of the shotgun in '07.
The Terriers, which prior to the '07 season operated primarily out of their base wingbone offense, will now show a little bit of everything. If you are going to the game on Saturday, stop for a moment and appreciate the scheming and the detail that goes into this diverse offense, which is likely one of the most diverse and among the best-executed offenses in the nation. Wofford will show some wishbone, Maryland-I, split-bone, I-Formation and the newest wrinkle, the pistol, which has already produced several big plays this season. Wofford has one of Division I's top offensive coaching staffs.
Leading the Terriers under center this season has been junior Brian Kass (9-of-21 passing, 187 yds, 5 TD, 2 INT/38 rush att, 102 yds, 3 TD, 2.7 YPC ), who is in his first season as a starter after replacing Mitch Allen under center. Kass has shown he has the ability to lead Wofford where it wants to go this season.
In many ways, he's a different quarterback than Allen was, in that he is a much more proficient passer and not quite the runner that his predecessor was. In last week's win over Elon, Kass' only completion resulted in a Terrier second quarter TD, completing a 16-yard pass to his tight end Michael Harpe.
In past seasons, Wofford's offense has been at its most efficient when being able to play two quarterbacks, and in 2012, freshman Michael Weimer (5-for-7 passing, 51 yds/12 rush att, 149 yds, 2 TDs, 12.4 YPC ) has seen some action this season, which only makes the Terrier offense more diverse. Weimer showed the nation what he could do on two long scoring runs against Western Carolina, as the six-foot-six Terrier signal-caller out-paced the Catamount defensive backfield on both runs, garnering SoCon Freshman of the Week honors as a result.
When talking about Wofford's offense, however, only one name needs to be mentioned, and that is fullback Eric Breitenstein (72 rush att, 735 yds, 9 TDs, 10.2 YPC). Breitenstein is an absolute specimen and beast of a running back, with a the perfect blend of speed, power, vision, power and intelligence. He is coming off a truly remarkable game against Elon, on what was a record-breaking offensive performance in the 49-24 win over Elon.
The Valle Crucis, N.C. product set a new Southern Conference rushing record, amassing 321 yards and a couple of TDs on 27 rush attempts, shattering the previous regular-season mark of 301 rushing yards in a regular-season game established by former Furman Paladin and 2000 Walter Payton Award winner Louis Ivory on Nov. 1, 2000 in a 45-10 win over Georgia Southern.
Breitenstein's 321 rush yards rank as the second-most rushing yards in a game Southern Conference history, with only former Georgia Southern running back and 1999 Walter Payton Award winner Adrian Peterson's 333-yard performance in a playoff win over UMass sitting above Breitenstein's amazing afternoon this past Saturday. His 321-yard performance was also more than former Appalachian State quarterback and two-time Walter Payton Award winner Armanti Edwards' rushing total of 313 yards in the FCS Semifinals against Richmond in 2007.
Breitenstein's astounding 183.3 YPG rushing average leads the nation. He currently ranks as the NCAA leader in active career rushing yards, posting 4,430 career rushing yards on 694 attempts. That career yardage total ranks him second in school history behind only quarterback Shawn Graves (1989-92), who rushed for 5,128 yards, and ranks seventh in Southern Conference history.
With 131 yards rushing against the Paladins on Saturday, Breitenstein could surpass former Marshall great Chris Parker (1991-95) for sixth on the league's elite rushing scroll. His 55-career rushing scores ranks him sixth on the SoCon's all-time ledger.
Breitenstein has had some big outings against the Paladins in the past, especially in the past two meetings, rushing for 359 yards and six TDs on 53 rush attempts. The last time the Paladins visited Gibbs Stadium two years ago, Breitenstein had a performance that catapulted him to Walter Payton Award candidate status with 230 yards and four TDs on 29 rush attempts in a 38-17 win. In the past two meetings with Furman, Breitenstein is averaging 244 yards rushing per game and three TDs, averaging almost a first down per attempt.
Teaming with Breitenstein in the Terrier backfield on Saturday against the Paladins will be Donovan Johnson (21 rush att, 245 yards, 2 TDs, 11.7 YPC). Johnson also a nice change up at running back, with good speed and power on the edge at one of the two wing positions. Johnson is a game-breaker. Though he doesn't have many receptions this season, he has proven he can catch the ball coming out of the Terrier backfield, with a 37-yard scoring catch this season.
Rounding out the starters in the Wofford backfield heading into Saturday's Upstate clash will be senior Brad Nocek (6 rush att, 56 yds, 9.3 YPC). Nocek hasn't seen all that many rushing attempts so far this season, but he provides and excellent perimeter blocking in his halfback role in the Terrier offense. Nocek also has one reception for five yards this season.
Though not used as primary offensive options in the Wofford offense, the Terriers have dangerous aerial threats, in tight end Michael Harpe (3 rec, 62 yds, 3 TDs, 20.7 YPR) and wide receiver Jeff Ashley (4 rec, 55 yds, 1 TD, 13.8 YPR), who has excellent speed and is the Terriers' top deep threat. Ashley is a excellent blocking presence on the edge as well. Harpe leads the team with three TD catches this season, including hauling in a 16-yard scoring catch last week in Wofford's 25-point win at Elon.
Wofford arguably has the top offensive line in the country, year-in and year-out, and this season appears to be no different. Four starters returned for the 2012 season, with the only loss being Jacob's Blocking Award winner Nate Page. Anchoring the front this season have been junior center Jared Singleton, junior left guard Tymeco Gregory and senior left tackle Calvin Cantrell. Singleton and Gregory pace the Terriers in knockdown blocks this season, boasting 59 and 56 pancakes, respectively. This trio have helped comprise a quintet that is aiding the Terrier offense in averaging 8.1 yards per rush and 8.0 yards per play.
Furman has struggled at times defensively through the first five games this season, but the unit looked like it was turning the corner last week. The 24 points scored by the Catamounts came against mostly backups in the fourth quarter, as the Furman first-stringers held Western to 10 points through the first three quarters of the game.
Coming into Saturday afternoon's contest, the Paladins come to Gibbs Stadium ranking 80th nationally in total defense (400.2 YPG), 81st in scoring defense (31.7 PPG), 37th in rush defense (134.6 YPG) and 108th in passing defense (265.6 YPG).
The good news for the Paladins heading into this weekend's matchup is that their weakness this season has been against the pass, which is something that will be a threat on Saturday, but not as much as it will be against the majority of Furman's 2012 schedule.
Another positive the Paladins can take into Saturday's matchup is they have been decent against the run this season, and though the Paladins will face the best offensive line they have seen all season on Saturday, this might be the best defensive line the Paladins have taken into matchup against the stout Terrier offensive front since the 2006 matchup.
The Paladins bring their best defensive line to Spartanburg since the 2006 season, and it is certainly the strength of the Furman defense heading into the matchup. Defensive ends Josh Lynn (21 tackles, 3.0 TFL, 1.0 sack) and Shawn Boone (13 tackles, 3.0 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 3 QBHs, 1 FF, 1 FR) are among the best in the Southern Conference, and both have gotten off to strong starts to the 2012 campaign. Boone has proven to be the top pass-rushing threat on the young season.
Lynn, a preaseason First-Team All-SoCon selection, comes into Saturday's contest having posted 24.5 TFL and 8.0 sacks for his career. In last season's 26-21 win over the Terriers, Lynn had a solid performance, posting four tackles, 2.0 TFL and a sack.
Set to occupy the two defensive tackle positions for the Paladins on Saturday afternoon will be Neal Rogers (17 tackles, 1.0 TFL, 0.5 sack) and Colton Keig (17 tackles, 1.0 TFL), who will be challenged as much Saturday as they will all season in the middle of that Furman defense, lining up against Wofford's strength, which is its interior offensive line.
Furman continues to get strong play out of its linebackers so far this season, and have two of the SoCon's tackle leaders slated to line up in the starting lineup on Saturday, with Matt Solomon (44 tackles, 3.0 TFL, 1.0 sack, 3 PBUs) slated to start at middle linebacker and Gary Wilkins (46 tackles, 1.5 TFL) at the weakside linebacker position. Solomon comes in ranking tied for ninth in the league in tackles, while Wilkins comes into the matchup against the Terriers ranking sixth overall in the league in total tackles.
The leader of the Furman linebacking corps coming into Saturday afternoon's clash is without question Mitch McGrath (33 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 1.0 sack, 2 INTs), who was a preseason Second-Team All-SoCon selection, is best described as a "playmaker" on the defensive side of the football for the Paladins. In the 26-21 win over the Terriers for Furman last season, McGrath was tied for the team lead with 13 tackles and also recorded a tackle-for-loss in that contest. McGrath will start at the strongside linebacker position on Saturday against the Terriers.
The secondary has seen its share of struggles through the first five games of the 2012 season, but the unit is gaining experience as the season has progressed. The strength of the Furman secondary this season has been the play of its safeties, as both free safety Nathan Wade (41 tackles, 2.0 TFL, 1 INT, 2 PBUs) and strong safety Greg Worthy (32 tackles, 1.0 TFL, 1 PBU) were preseason All-SoCon selections, with Wade being a second-team selection and Worthy being a first-season selection.
Both Wade and Worthy are experienced safeties, and that could be a big key this Saturday, as both will be called on with more responsibilities facing a wingbone/triple option team on Saturday. Both Wade and Worthy were impressive in last season's win over the Terriers, as both Wade recorded 11 tackles, while Worthy added 10 tackles, a TFL and an INT. Wade recorded his first interception of the season late in the win over Western Carolina.
The problems have come at cornerback early on this season, but Furman appeared to have righted the ship last week, and one of the reasons for the stability at the position in the past couple of games has been true freshman Reggie Thomas (14 tackles, 1 INT, 1 PBU).
Plain and simple, Thomas is a physical player, delivering a vicious hit to break up a pass against Western Carolina's Deja Alexander last week on a pass floated to the sidelines by WCU quarterback Eddie Sullivan. It was clear the freshman had been waiting on that type of moment and he delivered a bone-shattering, legal hit on Alexander.
Thomas is a player that has a chance to follow in the footsteps predecessor Ryan Steed, as he has that type of talent potential. His responsibilities this week will change, as he will have to fight off blocks and get to the edge to provide support against quick pitches, sweeps and options. It should be the type game that Thomas, with his physical nature, should like to be involved in.
Thomas will be joined at cornerback by senior Cortez Johnson (16 tackles, 2 PBUs), who is in his first season as a full-time starter at cornerback for the Paladins. Johnson is one of the fastest players on the Furman roster and has played well the past couple of games. Johnson, like his teammate Thomas on the other side, is a physical player and isn't scared to come up and make the hit. He, like Thomas, will be tested on the edge Saturday more than he has all season, because the cornerbacks and safeties perhaps play the largest roles in stopping an offense like Wofford's.
Another player that will likely be a factor for the Paladins on Saturday is reserve strong safety Marcus McMorris (15 tackles, 0.5 TFL, 1 INT, 1 TD), who recorded his second-career interception in last week's win over the Catamounts, returning the ball 52 yards for a score and has seen his role increase as a reserve in the secondary recently.
The Wofford defense might have been overshadowed by the performance of the Terrier offense this season, but it has proven to be among the staunchest units in the nation through the first four games of the 2012 season.
Coming into Saturday afternoon's contest against the Paladins, the Terriers bring a defense in the contest that ranks 22nd in the nation in total defense (314.2 YPG), third in scoring defense (12.7 PPG), 106th in pass defense (265.0 YPG) and first in rushing defense (49.2 YPG).
The Terriers have yet to allow an opponent to rush for 100 yards in any one of their first four games of the season. The Terriers will operate out of a 3-4 defensive alignment on Saturday against the Paladins.
Wofford has been extremely young across the defensive line so far this season, with three new starters along the front.
Two years ago, Furman's offensive line was completely dominated by that Terrier defensive front, while evening things up a little last season, as Furman was able to get the better of the Terrier defensive front.
The Terrier defensive line will play with the same mentality that all Mike Ayers coached teams have played with in the past, and the unit will look to assert its physical dominance from the outset on Saturday.
Wofford's three starting down linemen heading into Saturday's contest will be bookends Tarek Odom (2 tackles, 1.0 sack, 1 PBU) and Zach Bobb (7 tackles, 2.0 TFL, 0.5 sack, 1 blkd kick), while freshman E.J. Speller (2 tackles, 1.0 TFL, 1 FR) will start at the nose tackle position.
In past seasons, the position that has been the most important in the Terriers' 3-4 defensive alignment has been the nose tackle position, and Wofford has had some of the very best of the years, with players like Katon Bethay and Nathan Fuqua coming to mind as two of the very best to suit up for the Terriers at the position. Speller appears to be another player ready to follow in the footsteps of those elite predecessors, having played solid through the first four games of his college career for the Terriers.
The strength of the Terrier defense, however, is its linebackers. Leading the unit are preseason All-America and First-Team All-SoCon selection Mike Niam (10 tackles, 1.0 TFL) at one of the inside linebacker positions, while Alvin Scioneaux (15 tackles, 2.0 TFL, 1 FR, 1 FF) another of the top linebackers in the league, garnering preseason All-SoCon recognition, will start at outside linebacker on Saturday for the Terriers. Niam has been steady throughout his career, despite a knee injury, and he continues to be a veteran leader of the Terrier defense. Scioneaux is coming off a 2011 season, which saw him as one of the team's top pass-rushers.
Rounding out the starters at linebacker for Wofford heading into Saturday's contest will Mike McCrimon (19 tackles, 1.0 TFL), who will join Niam at inside linebacker, while Scioneaux will be joined by Phillip LeGrande (13 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 2.0 sacks, 4 PBUs, 1 FF) at outside linebacker on Saturday. LeGrande is having a solid season, leading the Terriers in sacks and ranks second on the team in tackles-for-loss. Anthony Carden (20 tackles, 1 PBU), who leads the team in tackles, will see plenty of action on Saturday against the Paladins in a reserve role behind McCrimon.
Like Furman, the Wofford secondary has had some issues to deal with at times this season, but looked solid at times in last week's win over the Phoenix. Anchoring the unit heading into Saturday's matchup between the two rivals are cornerbacks Blake Wylie (18 tackles, 1 INT) and Stephon Shelton (12 tackles, 1.0 TFL, 2 INTs). The veteran leadership that Shelton and Wylie have helped the Terriers make up for some deficiencies against the pass this season.
Joining Wylie and Shelton in the secondary for the Terriers on Saturday will be safeties James Zotto (15 tackles, 2 PBUs) and Josh Roseborough (9 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 1 INT, 1 FF, 1 PBU), as the duo are set to start at the free safety and strong safety positions. Both are solid at coming up and making plays against the run, and that has shown this season as the Terriers rank tops in the nation in defending the run. Roseborough leads the Terriers in tackles-for-loss this season.
Furman comes into Saturday's contest against Wofford playing very well offensively as of late, and the Paladins come in ranking 22nd in the nation in total offense (444.4 YPG), 38th in scoring offense (29.8 PPG), 24th in rushing offense (207.2 YPG) and 36th in passing offense (237.2 YPG).
The Paladins, who utilize a spread offense with some pro style elements, will once again rely on freshman sensation Reese Hannon (71-for-111, 973 yds, 6 TDs, 1 INT) under center on Saturday, as the Greer, S.C., native will be making his fourth start for the Paladins on Saturday.
In all four games he has played in this season, Hannon has passed for 200 or more yards in each of those starts. He came in and took over the job after Dakota Derrick went down with a shoulder injury against Coastal Carolina.
Hannon was recently named to the Jerry Rice Award Watch List, which is presented by The Sports Network and is given to the nation's top freshman player. Hannon is probably the best true freshman quarterback at Furman since Bobby Lamb in 1982.
In the 45-24 win over Western Carolina last week, Hannon helped power an offense that rolled up 619 yards to total offense, and he helped in that cause by connecting on 13-of-21 passes for 230 yards and a TD.
Hannon has had less pressure on him than most quarterbacks in his position simply as a result of the weapons he has around him. The Paladins have one of the best backfields in the SoCon and the FCS, which they will bring to Spartanburg on Saturday.
Senior Jerodis Williams (95 rush att, 645 yds, 5 TDs, 6.8 YPC/6 rec, 60 yds, 10.0 YPR) and sophomore Hank McCloud (58 rush att, 296 yds, 5 TDs, 5.1 YPC/6 rec, 48 yds, 8.0 YPR) have been able to keep defenses off-balance this season, and this one-two punch at running back is one of the best backfield tandems for the Paladins since the days of Louis Ivory and Hindley Brigham back in 20o1.
Williams and McCloud were simply sensational for the Paladins last week, with both turning in career-best performances running the football for the Paladins, with Williams posting a career-high 239 rushing yards and a pair of rushing scores, while McCloud posted a career-standard 123 yards and a TD on 20 rush attempts.
Williams also added 131 kick return yards, which included a 100-yard return for a score in last weekend's win over the Catamounts. The duo helped the Paladins to 389 rushing yards last Saturday, which is the most yards gained on the ground by a Furman offense since 2003. The 370 all-purpose yards by Williams set a new school record, and ranks second in Southern Conference history for all-purpose yards in a single game.
Williams ran the ball with authority against the Terrier defense last season, posting 155 yards and a pair of TDs on 22 rush attempts, but the senior First-Team All-SoCon selection will have his work cut out for him on Saturday against the nation's top run defense.
The Prattville, AL, native enters Saturday afternoon's contest ranking eighth on the school's all-time rushing ledger heading into Saturday's contest, with 2,572 career rushing yards. With 81 yards rushing on Saturday, he would surpass former great Jerome Felton (2004-07) for seventh on the all-time rushing ledger.
When Hannon goes to the air, he has several solid options to dial up, including preseason First-Team All-America selection Colin Anderson (15 rec, 242 yds, 16.1 YPR) at tight end. Anderson is one of the best tight ends to ever suit up for the Paladins, ranking first all-time among tight ends in career touchdown receptions (11), second in career receiving yards (1,285) and third in career receptions (75). Anderson led Furman's receiving threats with four receptions for 61 yards and a score in the 26-21 Paladin win last fall.
Joining Anderson as receiving options for the Paladins on Saturday will be Will King (21 rec, 407 yds, 3 TDs, 19.4 YPR), Ryan Culbreath (17 rec, 218 yds, 2 TDs, 12.8 YPR) and Jordan Snellings (8 rec, 117 yds, 2 TDs, 14.6 YPR). King has been the go-to-receiver for the Paladins this season and is second only to Elon's Aaron Mellette in receiving yards per game, as he enters Saturday's contest averaging 81.4 receiving yards per game. Culbreath and Snellings are big, physical wideouts that could cause matchup problems.
The most surprising aspect of the Furman offense this season has been the play of its offensive line, which will start a pair of true freshmen on Saturday, in center Eric Thoni and left guard Joe Turner. Junior All-SoCon selection Dakota Dozier anchors the young unit at the the left tackle position. Charles Emert (RT) and Ryan Storms (RG) round out a Paladin offensive line that has helped the Furman offense average 6.3 yards-per-play and 5.0 yards-per-rush this season. The Paladins have allowed six sacks through the first five game of the season.
Final Prediction: It's the oldest rivalry in the Palmetto State, and one that has only intensified since Wofford's recent run of success. I expect this game to see some points go on the board on both sides, with the meeting being a higher scoring matchup between the two than usual. It's a matchup between two of the league's premier offenses with the league's two top running backs on display. If you are a neutral college football fan in the Upstate of South Carolina and need a game to go to on Saturday, then get to Spartanburg for what should be a great game at Gibbs Stadium. With that said, I think Wofford's experience proves to be the difference and the Terriers pull out a hard-fought win in the fourth quarter.
Wofford 38, Furman 35