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Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Paladins Need to Drop their Bad Wildcat Habit

What started as a nightmare has turned into a potentially glorious season for Furman football. For only the second time in the last seven years, the Paladins will play games in November that count for something more than pride.

With their Homecoming win over 20th-ranked Samford, the Southern Conference frontrunner, Furman moved itself into position to potentially win the conference title. It was a win that no one would have anticipated as late as October 18, and it demonstrated the marked improvement of almost every area of this very young team.

Every area except the offensive game plan, which still includes the Wildcat. Furman needs some help from other teams to earn their first conference crown since 2004. They can do a lot to help themselves by losing the Wildcat.

In their usual display of school apathy, the Furman student body cleared Paladin stadium as soon as the Homecoming winners were announced on Saturday. They could do everyone a favor by taking that momentum-killer formation out the gate with them.

Plenty of people will point to the fact that the Wildcat has had some success this season for Furman. They scored one touchdown out of the formation, and actually completed a pass from it as well. The problem is not that the Wildcat is never successful at making positive yards. The problem is that its success is mitigated by the way that it kills the rhythm of the offense under quarterback Reese Hannon.

The ever-ambiguous "eye test" says that Hannon is at his best when he is in the game and running the offense. At LSU, where the Paladins used their "supplemental" offense very sparingly, Hannon looked incredible at ease and effective against a superior opponent. In spite of some good play against Georgia Southern and Samford, Hannon seemed off when exiting and re-entering the game.

The offense was absolutely stagnant for the majority of the second half last Saturday. Hannon looked completely out of sync and uncomfortable dropping back to pass on third down after running quarterback Richard Hayes III and tailback Hank McCloud were stopped for short gains on spread option plays.

This didn't cost the team in the game, thanks to stellar efforts by the defense. But eventually, it will. If Reese Hannon is the quarterback for this team, then he needs to be the quarterback. Let him win or lose the game running the offense that is suited for him. If he's ineffective or cannot get the job done, then use the Wildcat.

It doesn't seem to be as much of a problem if the Wildcat is used selectively, perhaps even on first down rather than second down. But it makes no sense to randomly run the starting quarterback to the sidelines in the middle of a series. It also doesn't help that Hannon is the only quarterback who is any real threat to throw the football. And Furman certainly can't afford to keep Hannon on the field in some decoy role, considering that he has missed time with injuries twice this season.

Here's the thing:  Furman has produced big plays on both sides of the ball in wins over Appalachian State, Georgia Southern and Samford. They've also needed sustained drives at times in all of those games, and Reese Hannon is the man that produced those against all of those teams and against LSU. That's the long-term formula for winning offense and keeping a vastly improved defense rested.

If they plan to beat a much-improved Western Carolina team and the energy-draining, clock-consuming triple option of Wofford, they're going to do it with solid play from the starting quarterback. It's time to cut the cord for Reese Hannon, and let him be the quarterback/leader for the Paladin offense.

The Wildcat is a spare offense and should be used like a spare tire:  Only in the most critical and necessary situations. If Furman wants to make the most of their late season surge, they'll get it out of Paladin Stadium faster than the students.

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