By "Motorcycle Tom" LeGrand (aka The Rev)
Hope springs eternal for just about every team with the start of a new football season. This was especially true for the Furman Paladins, who began the year with a "Back to the Future" approach.
Bruce Fowler returned to Furman in the winter of 2010 after spending nine years as a defensive coordinator in the SEC at Vanderbilt. The consensus was that, if Fowler could produce at Vandy, he could surely produce at Furman. As always, Paladin fans entered the season hoping for a return to the "glory days" that Fowler led, both as a player and a coach.
Then, Saturday happened.
Furman let a game slip away against an opponent that didn't even have football when the Paladins won their first Southern Conference title. Coastal Carolina is a state-supported school that does not have anything close to Furman's football tradition. But the Chanticleers have equalled--or surpassed--the Paladins in several areas, and that showed on the field Saturday night.
Whatever a Chanticleer is, Furman couldn't keep up with it.
Paladin fans were hoping that Coach Fowler would change the results that they have seen all too often in recent years. Furman put up some points and gained a lot of yards, but they were out-gunned by CCU's offensive unit, and that eventually cost them on both sides of the ball.
Furman was only 3-10 on third down and could only hold the ball for about 22 minutes. Coastal held the ball for almost 38 minutes, ran a whopping 81 plays, and have well over 400 yards of offense.
Reports coming out of Furman's preseason camp indicated that the defense was the strength of this Furman team. But no defense can hold up for that long in brutal heat/humidity against a competent offense. It left the unit too tired to hold up
Last season, the Paladins were abysmal on third down and time of possession. If the opener is any indication, those problems have yet to be solved. But Paladin fans can take heart, because there are several indications that this trend could change.
1. The Paladins have found the running game - They rushed for nearly 200 yards, including a nationally recognized 141 yard performance by junior Jerodis Williams. If the Paladins can run the football, they have a chance to begin controlling the clock. The defense can still be strong if they are given a chance to breath during the game.
2. Bruce Fowler was coaching his first game - And it is his only game as a head coach. Time could well begin to heal the "hiccups" that happened last Saturday.
3. The emergence of Chris Forcier - Furman's apparent quarterback was 14-21 for 150 yards. If his accuracy and confidence continue to grow, things may look different in a couple of months. His continued development gives Furman a huge weapon in both the running and passing game.
Yes, the Paladins demonstrated that they have not overcome all of their issues. But that was wishful thinking in the first place to assume that Bruce Fowler was going undefeated. It could take several years to get Furman where they want to be.
And Bruce Fowler is still the man for the job. His focus and intensity will eventually catch on to the Furman team.
But for the 2011 season, Furman's matchup this Saturday against The Citadel may be the most important week two matchup for any team in the state not wearing garnet and black. If the Paladins win, they can still have a respectable-to-good season. If they lose, then the rebuilding process will officially be in full swing.
Here's to hoping that the Bruce Fowler turnaround is coming sooner rather than later.