A lot of factors went into the Southern Conference disaster last Saturday on opening weekend. It's a little early to say that the Big South has passed the SoCon--it's week one, after all--but it certainly does not bode well for the remainder of the season.
South Carolina SoCon teams went 0-2 against their "little brother" conference, and they are pretty embarrassed about it. The Citadel took it on the chin to a school in their own town, as Charleston Southern pulled a huge upset. Furman at least had to drive an hour to take their beating, losing 28-21 to Gardner-Webb in Boiling Springs, NC.
It stung even that much more because the Bulldogs are coached by former Paladin assistant and all-around good guy Carroll McCray. But I'm sure it was all the more than sweet for him.
The most obvious truth that came out of that game was that Furman looked very 2012 in its performance. Very, very 2012.
Once again, the Paladins had the lead at halftime. Once again, they failed to hold that lead beyond the third quarter, and absolutely collapsed late in the game. They couldn't move the ball, much less stop the Bulldogs from moving it.
Let us assume that the offense deserves a bit of a break, as it unexpectedly started true freshman Dillon Woodruff in place of second-year starter Reese Hannon (abominable strain). The offensive line did not have its best night, and there was some mediocre work by the running backs on pass protection. The team looked very "vanilla" and inconsistent overall in producing only 213 yards and 7 first downs.
Everyone is keeping their fingers crossed that this will all change with Hannon's return against Coastal Carolina (another Big South foe). The defense is another story, and there doesn't appear to be a savior on the horizon.
For two and a half quarters, they were fast, tough, and aggressive. They pressured the quarterback and stuffed the run. A core of young linebackers, led by Cory Magwood's 18 stops, look to have a very bright future. Unfortunately, the future doesn't help them get rid of those demons in 2013.
Receivers still ran wild and free through the secondary, particularly in the second half. The defensive backs played well off the line of scrimmage, yet still managed to let Bulldog receivers run right through the middle for receptions of 54 and 49 yards, both in third and long situations.
Speaking of third down, Furman has to learn how to play beyond the first two snaps if they hope to have any success. The Bulldogs ran 82 total plays, largely because of converting 10-20 third and fourth down attempts. Most of those were conversions of more than six yards. While the talent looks good, at least up front, they are young and thin. The move of Gary Wilkins from linebacker to defensive end made this obvious.
In 2012, the Furman offense came out of the gate firing in almost every game, including a stellar first half performance against Clemson in Hannon's first start. But they obviously pared down the playbook to accommodate Hannon's inexperience, and opponents had them figured out by the third quarter. That has to change in order to keep the chains moving and give some rest to a defense that does not have a ton of experienced depth on the front seven.
The defense wore down once again on Saturday as the offense staggered towards the finish line. Again, Hannon's return should help a lot. But there is no Jerodis Williams or Colin Anderson on which to depend, and the new guys will have to step up to allow the offense to be more diverse. The coaching staff will have to trust whoever the quarterback is, and will have to install more halftime adjustments on both sides of the ball to keep opponents off-balance.
It is only one game, the first for a young defense and a true freshman QB. But if the Paladins hope to improve sooner rather than later, they have to learn how to finish as well as they start. That means the young players have to grow up in a hurry, and the coaching staff has to push them--and trust them--to do that, particularly in the second half of games.
The Paladins need to start this Saturday. Otherwise, Furman will be 0-2 against the Big South, and the same demons that haunted them in 2012 might hang around one more season.