Furman Paladins vs. Samford Bulldogs: Saturday Prediction

John Hooper@soconjohn22Correspondent IIOctober 6, 2011

Paladin Junior Safety Nathan Wade Intercepts A Conner Lowery Pass In The End Zone Just Before The Half In Last Season's Meeting Between Furman and Samford
Paladin Junior Safety Nathan Wade Intercepts A Conner Lowery Pass In The End Zone Just Before The Half In Last Season's Meeting Between Furman and Samford

GREENVILLE, S.C. - Fresh off a 47-21 win over Western Carolina, Furman (3-1, 2-0 SoCon) returns to Paladin Stadium to face Samford (2-2, 0-2 SoCon) on Saturday afternoon. Saturday's meeting between the Paladins and Bulldogs will mark the 13th all-time meeting between the two SoCon foes, with the Paladins holding a 7-5 all-time series edge. The Paladins come into Saturday's meeting with the Bulldogs, having won six straight in the series, dating back to 1969.

Samford comes into Saturday's matchup coming off a 41-14 win over Big South member Gardner-Webb. In the win over the Bulldogs, Samford quarterback Dustin Taliaferro (79-of-128 passing, 924 yds., 7 TDs, 2 INTs in 2011) connected on 16-of-29 passes for 290 yards and three scores.

Taliaferro leads a Samford offense that enters Saturday's SoCon matchup ranking third in the SoCon in scoring offense (32.2 PPG), sixth in total offense (387.7 YPG), seventh in rushing offense (139.8 YPG) and fourth in passing offense (247.8 YPG).

The Bulldogs have posted wins over Stillman (48-6) and Gardner-Webb (41-14) this season, while having lost to Georgia Southern (31-17) and Wofford (38-23). The Bulldogs were very competitive in both of their league losses to No. 1 Georgia Southern and No.5 Wofford.

Taliaferro has a fine corps of wideouts to throw the ball to coming into Saturday's contest against the Paladins, led by sophomore Kelsey Pope (26 rec., 344 yds., 4 TDs, 13.4 YPR in 2011). Pope has been Samford's big play threat this season, while veteran senior wideout Riley Hawkins (13 rec., 149 yds., 11.5 YPC in 2011) isn't all that far behind in receiving yards. Like Pope, Hawkins will be a big play threat with his speed, and is a player that the Paladin secondary must keep in front of them.

Leading the Samford ground game this season has been sophomore running back Fabian Truss (51 rush att., 261 yds., 3 TDs, 5.1 YPC in 2011). Truss has also been huge as a receiver this season for the Bulldogs, as he enters Saturday's showdown with the Paladins ranking third on the team in receiving, having hauled in 10 passes for 83 yards (8.3 YPC) this season. Fullback Jeremiaha Gates (25 rush att., 99 yds., 4.0 YPC in 2011) has also been effective in short-yardage situations for the Bulldogs in 2011.

Samford returned four starters on its offensive line coming into the campaign, and the unit has been one of the more cohesive units in the league so far this season. The offensive front is anchored by veteran left tackle Charlie Sanford and center Ryan Dudchok. Coming into Saturday's contest with the Paladins, the Bulldogs' offensive front ranks seventh in the SoCon in sacks surrendered, as the Bulldogs have yielded 10 sacks to opponents on the season.

New offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee has done well in orchestrating this Samford offense through the first four games. Paladin fans will see an offense that most resembles Auburn's hurry-up, spread attack, which is featured on the FBS level and is an offense that helped the Tigers claim the 2010 BCS National Championship. Lashlee was influenced by Gus Malzahn, as he was an offensive assistant under Malzahn prior to coming to Samford.

Furman will counter with a defense that has been pretty impressive during the early going in the 2011 season, and one that will enter Saturday's contest ranking third in the SoCon in scoring defense (19.5 PPG), sixth in total defense (339.5 YPG), fifth in rushing defense (155.8 YPG) and fourth in pass defense (183.8 YPG). Furman's nine sacks as a defense have already equaled the total from the entire season last fall.

Furman, which utilizes multiple defensive packages, primarily utilizes a 4-3 base defense. The defensive line, though undersized, has been active so far on the young 2011 season. Leading the way has been junior preseason All-SoCon selection Josh Lynn (14 tackles, 3.5 TFLs, 3.0 sacks, 1 FR in 2011) at defensive end.

Lynn's three sacks lead the team and rank him tied for fourth in the SoCon in total sacks so far this season. He teams with one of the most athletic players on the Furman defense, in Shawn Boone (9 tackles, 3.0 tackles, 2.0 sacks, 1 PBU in 2011). Boone and Lynn have combined to come up with five of the nine total sacks for the Paladin defense so far this season.

The two starters at defensive tackle for the Paladins on Saturday afternoon will be Colton Keig (5 tackles in 2011) and Neal Rogers (11 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 1.0 sack in 2011).

Linebacker has been solid all season, and is once again led by All-American and pre-season Buck Buchanan Award candidate Kadarron Anderson (35 tackles, 1.0 TFL, 1.0 sack, 3 PBUs, 1 FF in 2011). Anderson leads the Paladins in tackles and ranks sixth overall in the SoCon among the league's leading tacklers.

Anderson hasn't been alone in his strong play at linebacker this season for the Paladins, as he has been joined in those strong efforts at LB by outside LBs Chris Wiley (25 tackles, 1 PBU in 2011) and Mitch McGrath (28 tackles, 4.0 TFLs, 2 INTs, 4PBUs, 1 FF in 2011). Both have been active and quick to the ball on the flanks this season for the Paladins, and McGrath has been able to cause disruption at his outside position, playing as a rover safety in some of Furman's defensive packages. He posted his first INT of the 2011 season in last week's 47-21 win at Western Carolina.

Furman enters Saturday's matchup with one of the top defensive backfields in the SoCon, led by pre-season All-America cornerback Ryan Steed (11 tackles in 2011), who is a player that teams have made a concerted effort to throw away from this season. Steed, of course, had a huge game against the Bulldogs last season, as he recorded 10 tackles and returned an INT 56 yards for a score in the Paladins' 27-10 win at Samford last season.

Joining Steed as a starter at cornerback on Saturday will be either sophomore Austin Williams (8 tackles, 1 PBU in 2011) or junior Derrick Murray (3 tackles, 1 PBU, 1 INT in 2011). Both played last Saturday at Western Carolina, with Murray coming up with the first INT of his career off a tipped pass.

The safety position was given a huge boost this past week with the return of Nathan Wade (7 tackles, 1 TFL in 2011), who returned after serving an off-season suspension, and appeared to pick up right where he left off last season with seven tackles and a TFL in the win at Western Carolina.

Wade is coming off a strong 2010 season, which saw him record 63 tackles and three INTs. One of those three picks came against Samford last season, which ended a late first-half scoring drive for the Bulldogs, and changed the momentum of the game in the favor of the Paladins. Wade will likely serve in a reserve role at one of the safety positions on Saturday, although there remains the possibility that he could end up in the starting lineup.

Set to start at free safety on Saturday will be sophomore Greg Worthy (23 tackles, 1 INT in 2011), who is off to a strong start in 2011. Worthy is one of the hardest hitters on the defensive side of the ball and is one of the best tacklers for the Paladins. He is at his best coming up and playing the run.

Joining Worthy at safety on Saturday afternoon will likely be E.J. Vinsang (18 tackles, 1.5 TFLs, 1.0 sack in 2011), who will start at strong safety for Furman on Saturday. Vinsang has looked good in his first season as a starter in the Furman secondary.

Samford entered the 2011 season with only four returning starters on the defensive side of the football, and coming into Saturday's contest, the Bulldogs rank fourth in the league in scoring defense (22.2 PPG), seventh in total defense (358.0 YPG), eighth in rushing defense (238.8 YPG) and second in pass defense (119.2 YPG). The Bulldogs have six sacks through the first four games, ranking them eighth among the nine teams in the SoCon.

One of the strengths of the Samford defense this season has been the defensive line, which is anchored by defensive ends Aaron Bethune (12 tackles, 3.0 TFLs, 1 PBU, 1 FR in 2011) and Austin Hayes (13 tackles, 3.0 TFLs, 1.0 sack in 2011). Alex Davis (11 tackles, 1.0 TFL), a preseason All-SoCon selection and regular starter, suffered an injury last week and will likely not be available for Saturday's showdown.

Set to start at the respective defensive tackle positions for the Bulldogs on Saturday will be senior Devyn Keith (15 tackles, 4.0 TFLs, 2.0 sacks, 2 FRs in 2011) and Nicholas Williams (9 tackles, 1 FF in 2011) at defensive tackle. Both Keith and Williams have had solid starts to their respective campaigns, with Keith having all-conference worthy this season so far at nose guard. Keith is coming off a strong performance against Gardner-Webb, in which he recorded five tackles, 2.0 TFLs and a sack in the 41-14.

Though the linebacking corps no longer has Bryce Smith, the Bulldogs come to Greenville with a fine linebacking corps. Middle linebacker Keith Shoulders (21 tackles, 3.0 TFLs, 1 PBU) leads the Samford corps of linebackers for the Bulldogs, as he is the leading tackler on the club coming into Saturday afternoon's contest. Shoulders enjoyed his best outing of the 2011 season against Gardner-Webb last week, as he recorded seven tackles and a couple of tackles-for-loss.

Set to start at the two outside linebacker positions for the Bulldogs on Saturday will be Darion Sutton (15 tackles, 1.0 TFLs, 1 INT, 1 PBU in 2011) and Durrell Hill (18 tackles, 3.0 TFLs, 0.5 sack). Sutton was listed as Samford's top linebacker coming into the 2011 season and he comes into Saturday's contest with 13 of his 15 stops on the season being solo stops.

The secondary was supposed to be a weakness for the Bulldogs entering the 2011 season, but to this point, this unit has been a surprise on the defensive side of the football. Anchoring the Samford secondary this season has been junior strong safety Alvin Hines II (18 tackles, 3 PBUs, 1 INT in 2011). 17 of Hines' 18 tackles have been solo stops this season, and he turned in his top performance of the campaign against both Georgia Southern and Gardner-Webb, recording seven tackles in each of those games this season.

Teaming with Hines at safety on Saturday will be senior free safety Omar Johnson (9 tackles, 2 PBUs in 2011). Johnson has gotten off to a slow start, but did manage to post six tackles and a couple of PBUs in last week's win over Gardner-Webb.

Rounding out the starters on the defensive side of the football for the Bulldogs on Saturday afternoon will be cornerbacks Corey White (13 tackles, 1 PBU, 1 INT in 2011) and Brandon Nettles (4 tackles, 1 PBU in 2011). White was a preseason All-SoCon selection in 2011.

Furman comes into Saturday's contest with an offense that has been able to light up the scoreboard so far this season, as the Paladins enter the showdown with Samford ranking second in the SoCon and 10th nationally in scoring offense (37.0 PPG). Furman also ranks fourth in the league in rushing offense (229.5 YPG), fifth in passing offense (182.6 YPG), fourth in total offense (412.2 YPG) and the Paladins lead the SoCon in passing efficiency offense (209.46). The Paladins also lead all of FCS in passing efficiency offense.

Leading that extremely efficient offense has been the nation's most-efficient passer, in senior quarterback Chris Forcier (49-of-63 passing, 671 yds., 12 TDs, 0 INTs, 226.0 pass eff.) Forcier is the two-time reigning SoCon Offensive Player of the Week and also enters Saturday's contest having rushed the ball 36 times for 140 yards and a TD so far on the campaign. Forcier is coming off a solid performance against Western Carolina, as he completed 14-of-17 passes for 237 yards, with four TD tosses.

Making things easier for Forcier this season has been having the SoCon's leading rusher, in junior Jerodis Williams (88 rush att., 534 yds., 4 TDs, 6.1 YPC in 2011 ) to hand the ball off to this season. Williams is a bruising runner and is coming off a strong performance against Western Carolina last week, as he rushed for 175 yards and a TD on 28 carries. Williams will team with Tersoo Uhaa (18 att., 66 yds., 3.7 YPC, 1 TD in 2011) and Hank McCloud (39 rush att., 149 yds., 4.4 YPC, 1 TD in 2011) in the Furman ground attack on Saturday.

The Paladins have also shown a myriad of weapons in the passing game this fall at wide receiver. However, one of Forcier's favorite targets thus far in 2011 has been his junior tight end Colin Anderson (13 rec., 171 yds., 3 TDs, 13.2 YPR in 2011). Anderson posted his best performance of the 2011 season at Western Carolina, as he hauled in five passes for 87 yards and a couple of scores in the win.

Tyler Maples (14 rec., 216 yds., 2 TDs, 15.4 YPR in 2011) and Sederrik Cunningham (6 rec., 110 yds., 18.3 YPR, 2 TDs in 2011) are two veteran, reliable receivers that have come up big for the Paladins so far this season. Daniel McFadden (4 rec., 85 yds., 2 TDs, 21.2 YPR in 2011) gives the Paladins a deep threat with blazing speed, while Ryan Culbreath (6 rec., 59 yds., 9.8 YPR in 2011) gives the Paladins a physical blocking edge on the perimeter.

Furman has gotten solid play out of its experienced offensive line so far this season, as the unit continues to be anchored by preseason all-league selections Ryan Lee (RT) and Dakota Dozier (LT). Furman senior center Daniel Spisak is one of the most underrated offensive linemen in the SoCon. Furman's offensive front has yielded five sacks (1.25 SPG/5th in SoCon) this season.

Final Prediction:

This has the makings of another great one between the Paladins and Bulldogs, who have seen two of their three meetings as league members decided by less than a field goal. Give Furman the edge with the homefield advantage in a game that should have plenty of fireworks.

41-33 Furman


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