Furman-Chattanooga Set to Battle in Postseason Elimination Game Saturday

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Furman-Chattanooga Set to Battle in Postseason Elimination Game Saturday
Furman Senior Linebacker Mitch McGrath

WHO: Chattanooga (2-3, 1-1 SoCon) at Furman (2-4, 1-2 SoCon)

WHEN: Oct. 13, 2012, 1:30 p.m. ET

WHERE: Greenville, S.C., Paladin Stadium (16,000)

Overview: After Saturday's 20-17 loss to No. 5 Wofford, Furman now finds itself having lost three games to FCS foes by a combined total of eight points.

Saturday's opponent, Chattanooga, certainly can relate to Furman's heartbreaks, as it was the Mocs that finished the 2011 season with five of its six losses coming by a total of combined total of six points.

Saturday's contest offers the chance for a young Furman team to continue to take steps under second-year head coach Bruce Fowler, which had the Paladins enter the polls in his first season briefly at No. 17 before falling out of the polls after a 41-34 loss to Elon.

Fowler helped the Paladins to a 6-5 record last fall, and Furman is looking to return to the prominence that saw the program capture a league-standard 12 Southern Conference crowns, with the last conference crown coming in 2004 and the last trip to the FCS postseason coming in 2006.

Furman played toe-to-toe with Top 5 foe Wofford last week, as the Paladins dropped a 20-17 decision to the Terriers in Spartanburg last week.

Chattanooga comes into Saturday's contest off of an off week. Like Furman, Chattanooga is trying to find its way back to prominence in the Southern Conference, and the man charged with charting the course back to prominence for the Mocs is Russ Huesman, who is now in his fourth year at the helm of the Mocs program.

Huesman sports a 19-19 record in his career at Chattanooga, and is 1-2 in three previous meetings with the Paladins, including seeing his Mocs drop a 14-7 decision to the Paladins last season.

In the late 1970s and for the first half of the 1980s, Furman and Chattanooga were among the league's elite, and both head coaches played defensive back for the school they now coach, with Fowler once playing cornerback at Furman (1977-81) and Huesman playing cornerback at Chattanooga (1979-83) during that same time period.

The Mocs, as a program, have won four Southern Conference crowns, with the last league title for the Mocs coming in 1986, which also accounts for the program's last playoff appearance.

The Mocs have been on the brink of revisiting the postseason in each of Huesman's first two seasons, but haven't quite been able to get over the hump, posting back-to-back 6-5 campaigns before a disappointing 5-6 finish last season in a campaign which saw the Mocs enter the season ranked No. 13 in the country. 

Bruce Fowler is now 8-9 at the helm of the Furman program in two seasons as the head coach and is 1-0 vs. Huesman as the head coach at Furman.

The last time Huesman and the Mocs made the trip to Greenville, Chattanooga was able to post one of the more remarkable come-from-behind wins in school history, as the Mocs came away from Greenville with a 36-28 win in tow, snapping a 15-game losing streak against the 25th-ranked Paladins, which dated back to 1994.

Trailing 28-10 entering the fourth quarter, the Mocs were able to get their largest fourth quarter comeback in school history, with 26 unanswered points in the final quarter to come away from Greenville with the victory.

Huesman was able to lead his Mocs to an impressive Southern Conference road win the last time the Mocs took the field a couple of weeks ago, picking up a 28-10 road win over No. 11 The Citadel, marking UTC's highest ranked foe it has defeated on the road since the 1983 campaign, when the Mocs posted a 30-9 win over Appalachian State in Oct. of 1983.

With the win last week, Huesman improved his record to 5-9 in his career against ranked foes, and one of those five wins against ranked foes of course came in 2010, when the Mocs posted the win over a 25th-ranked Paladin squad.

Three of Huesman's four wins against ranked foes have been against the Palmetto State contingent of the SoCon, knocking off 17th-ranked Wofford, 34-9 in 2009, while posting the win over No. 24 Furman in 2010 and the win over No. 11 The Citadel the last time out.

Fowler has certainly put the Paladins in the headlines a few times in his first two seasons at the helm in Greenville, with most remembering the Paladins' two wins over a pair of Top Five foes last season, with the Paladins claiming wins over No. 3 Appalachian State (20-10) and No. 5 Wofford (26-21), with both of those victories coming in Greenville last fall.

The Paladins haven't defeated many ranked FCS foes on the road in the past few seasons, and dropped to 0-7 against Top 10 opponents on the road last week with its 20-17 loss to fifth-ranked Terriers in Spartanburg. In fact, last season's 14-7 road win at Chattanooga was one of the better road results in recent history for the Paladins, taking down a comparable, formidable opponent in the Mocs. Fowler is 2-2 against ranked foes in just his second season at Furman.

Losses have come against Wofford last week and top-ranked Georgia Southern (20-10). Over the past two seasons, Fowler has yet to face lower than a Top Five ranked foe when facing FCS ranked opponents.

Saturday's meeting between the Paladins and Mocs will mark the 42nd meeting between both teams, with Furman having a commanding 27-14 series edge, including claiming 16 of the past 17 meetings between the two programs. Little margin for error remains for either program, as both must win out to make the postseason.

With an all Division I schedule, Furman is allowed an extra loss than the Mocs, who have one of their wins against a non-Division I member, with a victory over Glenville State.

Saturday's contest is hugely important for both teams, who have been playing some good football as of late. Expect a game between two relatively young football teams, littered with underclassmen among each of their respective starting lineups on both sides of the football heading into the clash.

Just another day in the Southern Conference is set, on what I am calling "Separation Saturday" in Southern Conference football.

Preview: Chattanooga has had some difficulties at times trying to adjust to its new spread offense this season, however, the unit seemed to be getting more comfortable in the scheme the last time out, especially running the football. For the first time in the 2012 season in the 28-10 win against The Citadel a couple of weeks ago, the Mocs actually exhibited an offensive identity.

The Mocs enter Saturday afternoon's contest against the Paladins ranking 69th nationally in total offense (346.6 YPG), 73rd in scoring offense (23.4 YPG), 76th in passing offense (174.4 YPG) and 42nd in rushing offense (172.2 YPG). The Mocs haven't been as prolific offensively as they were in their trip two years ago to Paladin Stadium, but they have been this season is an extremely balanced offensive attack. 

Slated to lead that offense will be recent Jerry Rice Award List addition Jacob Huesman (70-of-111 passing, 704 yds, 6 TDs, 3 INTs/67 rush att, 304 yds, 1 TD, 4.5 YPC).

Huesman has excellent speed, and the son of head coach Russ Huesman has shown an uncanny poise for a true freshman signal-caller.

He has had some solid performances so far this season, and the last time out against the Bulldogs, Huesman connected on 11-of-14 passes for 86 yards and a score, while also rushing for 80 yards on 14 rush attempts to total 166 yards of offense in the win over the Bulldogs.

Huesman possesses excellent speed and is one of the fastest players on the offensive side of the football for the Mocs.

Likely to once again split the snaps under center with Huesman on Saturday, will be Terrell Robinson (16-0f-24 passing, 178 yards, 2 TDs/40 rush att, 165 yds, 1 TD, 4.5 YPC), who started under center against the Paladins last season in place of injured senior signal-caller B.J. Coleman.

Like Huesman, Robinson is tremendously gifted as an athlete, and he saw his most extensive action under center in UTC's last game against The Citadel. In that contest, Robinson was able to make good on four of five passes for 73 yards and a score, while rushing for a team-high 97 yards and a score on 22 rush attempts.

One of the more forgettable performances of Robinson's career would have to be in last season's game against the Paladins, as he connected on just one of seven passes for three yards, with a pair of INTs. As a rushing threat, Robinson battled for 87 yards on 32 attempts. It was no doubt a frustrating performance for Robinson after he had so much success against Georgia Southern and Elon in prior matchups to the Furman game in 2011.

Robinson could also see some action at wide receiver with his athleticism. Coming into Saturday's game against the Paladins, Robinson has hauled in three passes for 44 yards and a score (19.7 YPR).

Huesman and Robinson enter Saturday's matchup ranking as Chattanooga's top two rushing threats, ranking No. 1 and No. 2 in rushing yardage, respectively. Chattanooga has split the carries among three capable running backs, giving the Mocs a versatile, talented group of running backs.

Leading the charge in the Mocs' backfield has been bruising running back Keon Williams (48 rush att, 150 yds, 2 TDs, 3.1 YPC), who's a player that runs with authority.

Williams has been the Mocs' go-to back in short-yardage situations this season, and after being suspended last season, has had to work himself back into the rushing game in the new offense.

In the win over the Paladins two years ago in Greenville, Williams rushed for 14 yards on three carries.

Joining him in the ground game responsibilities on Saturday  will be J.J. Jackson (27 rush att, 59 yds, 2.2 YPC/10 rec, 102 yds, 10.2 YPR), Kendrix Huitt (18 rush att, 100 yds, 1 TD, 5.6 YPC) and Marquis Green (18 rush att, 97 yds, 2 TDs, 5.4 YPC/3 rec, 17 yds).

Jackson is the veteran of the three, with the most versatility and is one of the better athletes on the Chattanooga roster.

Two years ago against Furman, Jackson was a threat both as a running back and a receiving threat coming out of the backfield, as he rushed for 38 yards and a score on nine carries, while hauling in three passes for 25 yards in the eight point road win. When the Mocs go to the air, their leading threat, much like Furman, is the tight end position.

Faysal Shafaat (19 rec, 201 yds, 3 TDs, 10.6 YPR) is off to a strong performance in 2012 as he is leading the Mocs in receiving yards coming into Saturday's matchup, and ranks second to only Furman's Colin Anderson in receiving yards among SoCon tight ends.

Shafaat has been solid throughout is career catching the football for the Mocs, and like Furman's Anderson, is a tremendous athlete and a sure-handed receiving option in clutch situations.

In the 28-10 win over The Citadel two weeks ago, Shafaat hauled in three passes for 24 yards and a score.

The Mocs have a solid trio of receivers set to challenge the Furman secondary, led by Ron Moore (10 rec, 163 yds, 2 TDs, 16.3 YPR) and Tommy Hudson (17 rec, 133 yds, 7.8 YPR), while veteran wideout Marlon Anthony (5 rec, 48 yds, 1 TD, 9.6 YPR) will be making his third start of the season after battling an early-season ankle injury that he is just now fully recovering from.

All three have been solid downfield threats for the Mocs this season and the Mocs saw Moore really come as a solid receiving threat as of late. He was able to catch TD passes against The Citadel last week and Jacksonville earlier in the campaign. Moore has the longest scoring reception of the season, as he hauled in a 60-yard scoring pass in the win against the Bulldogs.

Five of Moore's 13 career catches have been 20 or more yards in distance, giving you an idea of just how much of a downfield threat he can be.

Hudson is a player that enters Saturday's contest in much the same mold as Moore, with good speed and the ability to make the big play over the top. Hudson turned in his best performance of the season in the win over Glenville State, hauling in six passes for 64 yards.

Anthony, though, should be close to full strength on Saturday.

The offensive line continues to mature for the Mocs this season, but the unit overall is much improved from the one that the Paladins saw last fall.

Anchoring the offensive line for the Mocs will be right tackle Adam Miller, who was the lone preseason All-SoCon selection along the offensive line for the Mocs. The senior has started 37 games in his career, including 23 straight.

Rounding out the starters along the Chattanooga offensive front heading into Saturday's contest will be: Kevin Revis (RG), Patrick Sutton (C), Synjen Herren (G) and Hunter Dockery (LT). The unit is still ironing out the wrinkles, however, as the Mocs have yielded a league high 15 sacks through the first five games of the 2012 season.

For the first time in last Saturday's 20-17 loss to Wofford, Furman looked like the defense that many thought it would be coming into the 2012 season, which is one that at times was dominant against a powerful Wofford offense.

The Paladins held the Terriers to 304 yards on the ground last Saturday, which was well under its national leading average coming into the matchup.

The Paladins enter Saturday's matchup ranking 78th nationally in total defense (394.6 YPG), 76th in scoring defense (29.4 YPG), 68th in rushing defense (162.7 YPG) and 84th in passing defense (231.5 YPG).

The Paladins have a defense that has been strongest along its defensive line this season, led by one of the top defensive end tandems in the Southern Conference, in senior Josh Lynn (22 tackles, 3.0 TFL, 1.0 sack, 1 PBU, 1 FF) and junior Shawn Boone (16 tackles, 4.0 TFL, 2.5 sacks,  3 QBHs, 1 FF, 1 FR).

Both Boone and Lynn are experienced and athletic, and will give a Chattanooga offensive line that has had trouble protecting the quarterback some issues on Saturday afternoon. In last season's meeting with the Mocs, Lynn and Boone both had strong performances, especially Lynn who recorded seven tackles, 2.0 TFL and a sack in the 14-7 win in the Scenic City. Boone had four tackles in the win against the Mocs last season.

Set to start at the two defensive tackle positions will be Colton Keig (20 tackles, 2.0 TFL) and Neal Rogers (18 tackles, 1.0 TFL, 0.5 sack), who will anchor the middle of that Paladin defense once again.  The two tackles are solid, and have been good at making things tough running the football at the middle of that Furman defense, as Wofford and Breitenstein found out last weekend for three quarters of the football game.

No one will soon forget the performance by Furman linebacker Mitch McGrath (44 tackles, 5.0 TFL, 1.0 sack, 2 INTs, 1 FF, 3 PBUs) against the Chattanooga Mocs last season, which was one of the best individual defensive performances in one game by a Paladin in school history.

The then junior outside linebacker finished that day with nine tackles, 4.0 sacks, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and an INT, garnering Sports Network National Defensive Player of the Week accolades.

McGrath, a second-team All-SoCon selection entering the season, is once again a key cog of the Furman defense, which has gotten solid play out of its linebackers this season. The senior from Longwood, FL, will start at strongside linebacker for the Paladins on Saturday.

Teaming with McGrath will be sophomore weakside linebacker Gary Wilkins (49 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 1 PBU) and senior middle linebacker Matt Solomon (50 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 1.0 sack, 3 PBUs), who comes in leading the Furman defense in tackles through the first six games.

Wilkins is one of the most athletic players on this Paladin defense, while Solomon might be the most physical performer on a Furman defense that is very physical.

Furman has been susceptible to the big play in its secondary this season, which was evidenced by the 52-yard TD pass in the third quarter by Wofford, which proved to be the game-winning score last week.

The strength of the Furman secondary is its two safeties, Nathan Wade (48 tackles, 2.0 TFL, 1 INT, 2 PBUs) and Greg Worthy (39 tackles, 1.0 TFL, 1 PBU). Both entered the season as All-SoCon picks, as Worthy, a junior strong safety, was a First-Team All-S0Con selection coming into the season, while Wade, a senior free safety, as a Second-Team All-SoCon selection coming into the 2012 season. Worthy and Wade had five tackles apiece in the win at Chattanooga last season.

The position at which Furman has struggled the most this season has been at cornerback, where the Paladins have been somewhat inexperienced.

Set to start at the two corners on Saturday for Furman will be senior Cortez Johnson (21 tackles, 1.0 TFL, 2 PBUs, 1 FR) and true freshman Reggie Thomas (14 tackles, 1.0 TFL, 1 INT, 1 PBU). Johnson has excellent speed, while Thomas is physical and is one of the best young athletes on the Paladin defense this season.

Like the 2011 season, Chattanooga brings one of the top defensive units in the FCS into Saturday's matchup with the Paladins. The Mocs come in ranking 17th nationally in total defense (315.0 YPG), 30th in scoring defense (21.0 PPG), 38th in rushing defense (138.6 YPG) and 31st in passing defense (178.4 YPG).

The Mocs will bring what many consider one of the best defensive lines in the nation to this matchup, and the best defensive line that the Paladins have faced this season.

Like Furman, the Mocs are led by their strong tandem of defensive ends, in Josh Williams (11 tackles, 2.0 TFL) and Davis Tull (19 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 4.0 sacks, 5 QBHs). With Williams drawing most of the attention, Tull is having a season worthy of All-America praise if the season were to end today.

Coming into Saturday's matchup, Tull ranks ranks second in the SoCon in sacks through the first five games this season and was a SoCon All-Freshman Team selection last season. In the loss to the Paladins last season, it was Tull that was one of the more active players on the UTC defense, as he posted eight tackles, 2.0 TFL, and was responsible for the only sack on the afternoon against the Paladins.

Williams came into the 2012 season as a preseason All-America selection, and has already set the school record for sacks, as he enters the game against Furman with 21.5 career quarterback takedowns, but has yet to record one this season.

The defensive interior will be occupied by the solid duo of Toyvian Brand (10 tackles, 1.0 TFL) and University of Georgia transfer Derrick Lott (18 tackles, 1 FR). Both Brand and Lott are athletic and have done a good job of shutting down running lanes for the Mocs' foes through the first five games of the season.

Like the defensive line in front of them, the Chattanooga linebackers are considered one of the best units in the Southern Conference this season, and that credibility and praise starts in the middle with preseason All-America selection and Buck Buchanan Award watch list member Wes Dothard (35 tackles, 3.0 TFL, 1 FF, 1 INT).

Dothard didn't get off to quite the start he did last season, but he has picked up his performance over the past few weeks and is now living up to those preseason accolades. Dothard was tied for second on the team in tackles in last season's loss to Furman, registering eight stops and he currently ranks second on the squad in tackles so far this season.

Teaming with Dothard at linebacker in the Mocs' 4-3 defensive alignment will be Gunner Miller (23 tackles, 2.0 TFL, 1.0 sack, 1 INT) and Shane Heatherly (29 tackles, 2.0 TFL, 1.0 sack). Like Dothard, both Heatherly and Miller are experienced, veteran members of the Chattanooga defense. Miller recorded a solid performance in the loss to Furman last season, registering eight stops.

The secondary has been solid this season, but has given up a few big plays. The unit is led by D.J. Key (41 tackles, 0.5 TFL, 1 INT) at safety, who is coming into the matchup as the Mocs' leading tackler, and is an All-SoCon talent in the defensive backfield.

Key will team in the defensive backfield with Keith Mayes (15 tackles, 1 sack), who will be starting his third game at free safety. Mayes is one of the top young players on the Chattanooga defense.

The two cornerback positions will be anchored by Kadeem Wise (30 tackles, 1.0 TFL, 1 INT, 1 FR) and Chaz Moore (23 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 1 INT), as the tandem is one of the strongest cornerback duos in the SoCon.  It was Wise, who was a SoCon All-Freshman selection two years ago, that picked off the game-clinching pass by Cody Worley the last time the Mocs made the trek to Greenville.

Furman brings an offense into Saturday's matchup that has been explosive at times this season, but a unit that was held under wraps for the most part in last week's 20-17 loss to Wofford.

The Paladins enter Saturday's matchup ranking 24th in the nation in total offense (423.5 YPG), 46th in scoring offense (27.7), 22nd in rushing offense (197.5 YPG) and 46th in passing offense (226.0 YPG).

Like Chattanooga, the Paladins have a Jerry Rice Award candidate under center, in Reese Hannon (86-for-136 passing, 1,107 yds, 6 TDs, 4 INTs), who will be making his fifth start under center against the Mocs, since taking over the quarterbacking duties for Dakota Derrick, who went down in the second week of the season against Coastal Carolina. Since Hannon has taken the job, he hasn't looked back in leading the Paladins.

The true freshman has shown an uncanny poise under center, and has thrown for 200 or more yards in four of five games he has seen action in for the Paladins this season.

In the game against Coastal Carolina, Hannon enjoyed his best performance of the season, completing 22-of-35 passes for 255 yards and four TDs in a 47-45 triple-overtime loss. Hannon led the Paladins to scores on each of their final six possessions in the contest to garner SoCon Freshman of the Week honors for his efforts.

Senior running back Jerodis Williams (121 rush att, 766 yds, 7 TDs, 6.3 YPC/9 rec, 74 yds, 8.2 YPR) continues to run the football with an agenda, and he had to get all 123 yards the tough way in last Saturday's setback at Wofford.

Williams currently ranks sixth on Furman's all-time rushing ledger, having posted 2,693 rushing yards in his career, recently passing Jerome Felton on Furman's all-time rushing list. Williams needs 346 rushing yards to push into the top five on Furman's all-time rushing chart.

Against the Mocs last season, Williams rushed for 60 yards and a TD on 20 attempts. Like last week, Williams had to fight for every yard he was able to gain in last season's 14-7 win over the Mocs.

Williams teams in the Furman backfield with talented sophomore Hank McCloud (63 rush att, 309 yds, 5 TDs, 4.9 YPC/6 rec, 48 yds, 8.0 YPC), who offers a nice chang to Williams' rushing skills in the Paladin backfield.

McCloud has excellent speed and has been dangerous when he reaches the second level of the defense this season. McCloud recorded the best rushing effort of his career in the win over Western Carolina a couple of weeks ago, posting 123 yards and a TD on 20 carries.

When Furman goes to the air on Saturday, the one player Chattanooga will obviously have to be wary of is tight end Colin Anderson (19 catches, 321 yds, 16.9 YPR). Anderson, who was a preseason First-Team All-America selection has had some of his best games in his standout career against the Mocs. Last season, Anderson made just one catch, but it was a huge reception for the Paladins, as he reeled in a 42-yard strike from Chris Forcier.

Anderson enters Saturday's contest against the Mocs ranking first all-time among Furman tight ends in career receiving TDs (11), second in career receiving yards (1,364yds) and third in career receptions (79). With four more catches, he would surpass Brette Simmons for second on the all-time list in career receptions.

Anderson needs 202 more receiving yards over the final five games for the Paladins to become the all-time leader among Paladin tight ends in receiving yards, which would surpass former Paladin great Luther Broughton. After leading the Paladins with seven TD catches last season, Anderson has yet to be on the receiving end of a scoring pass this season.

Anderson has, however, posted a catch in each of the past 19 games for Furman. He currently ranks second on the Paladins statistical ledger in receiving in 2012.

Leading the pass-catchers for the Paladins entering Saturday afternoon's showdown is senior flanker Will King (25 rec, 457 yds, 3 TDs, 18.3 YPR). The former high school quarterback is having himself quite a season and ranks second in the SoCon to only Elon's Aaron Mellette in receiving yards per game, averaging 76.2 yards-per-game. King will team with junior 6'5", split end Ryan Culbreath (18 rec, 223 yds, 2 TDs, 12.4 YPR) to round out a group of solid, reliable receiving options for the Hannon heading into the matchup with the Mocs.

Furman's offensive line has performed much better than expected this season, and has been one of the reasons the offensive has been able to move the ball so effectively. Anchoring the unit is preseason First-Team All-SoCon selection Dakota Dozier at left tackle, while redshirt freshman center Eric Thoni, who is a walk-on, is also having an outstanding season replacing veteran Daniel Spisak this season.

Along with Dozier, look for Paladin right tackle Charles Emert—maybe the most versatile, athletic player across the Furman offensive front, to end up on one of the offensive all-league scrolls at season's end. The Paladins' O-line has surrendered seven sacks on the season, and will face their toughest test this season, on Saturday against the Mocs, who have one of the top defensive fronts in the FCS. Furman comes in averaging 6.1 yards-per-play.

Final Prediction: Furman 24, Chattanooga 20

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