With 30 seconds left to play in the third quarter, Florida coach Will Muschamp was giving an earful to his defensive coordinator. Again.
Apparently, this was a common theme in the Gators matchup with Furman last Saturday. Jerodis Williams had just run 77 yards for a touchdown, getting the Paladins within a touchdown of the Gators. It was also the biggest play in a 446 yard effort by the Furman offense.
The Florida coaching staff was incensed and frustrated with the Furman offense. Funny thing is that the Furman coaches, players and fans were equally baffled by the Paladins’ performance.
As proud as the Furman faithful were last Saturday, the performance against Florida had to be infuriating. How could a team that was within one touchdown of the University of Florida with 12 minutes to play lose to the likes of Elon, Samford, and Coastal Carolina?
Even more baffling was the Paladins’ performance in their own division. Beating fifth-ranked Wofford and third-ranked Appalachian State—both playoff-bound out of the Southern Conference—should have propelled Furman to their first playoff appearance in five seasons.
With the exception of the Georgia Southern game, Furman gave its best effort against its best competition. The explanation about why the Paladins did the opposite against the worst teams on their schedule is more complicated.
Winning and losing are learned behaviors. They are habits. A team that does not know how to win often has a difficult time managing and sustaining success.
This Furman team is still learning how to win after several years of mediocrity. None of these players knows what it is like to make a playoff appearance, much less wear a conference title ring. They still have to learn to handle success and overcome the inevitable tendency to play up and down to the competition.
I fully expect this team to stay about the same next season, perhaps even take a small step back. Losing talent like Chris Forcier, Joel Steed, and Kadarron Anderson will be a blow. And those departures will make it that much harder to develop winning habits.
At the same time, Bruce Fowler and his staff made huge strides in getting this team to buy into a system of toughness and tenacity that nearly elevated Furman back into the elite in the SoCon. A couple more seasons should begin to produce the consistent results that Fowler will demand.
Fowler and the Paladins accomplished a lot in 2011, but they still have a long way to go to get where they want to be. At some point, the Furman football team needs to learn that, unless they can follow through, terrific upsets are only “moral victories.”
And “moral victory” is ultimately the rallying cry for losers. Soon enough, the Furman program will leave that mantra in the rear-view mirror.