South Carolina uses late first half surge to down FCS sixth ranked Furman

Furman faced a formidable challenge, ultimately losing 47-21 to South Carolina, marked by numerous big plays and pivotal moments throughout the game.

Furman's DE Jack Barton and SPUR Jalen Miller pressure South Carolina's QB Spencer Rattler
Source: Furman Athletics

Furman came into the game throwing its best punches, however, as the opening half clock wound down under a minute, South Carolina would essentially deliver a pair of knockout blows from which the Paladins could never recover, posting a 47-21 win before a sellout crowd at Williams-Brice Stadium in its 2023 home opener.

The win sees South Carolina even its record at 1-1, while Furman fell to 1-1.

Those Gamecocks knockout blows came from South Carolina’s talented senior signal-caller Spencer Rattler, who after going 30-of-39 for 353 passing yards despite being sacked nine times to open the season in the 31-17 loss to No. 22 North Carolina, continued his outstanding passing efficiency to open the season against Furman.

Rattler finished 25-of-27 for 345 yards and three scores in leading a South Carolina offense that rolled up 571 yards of total offense. The Gamecocks ended the night with a substantial advantage in total offense, out-gaining the Paladins 571-323 in total offense, including holding a 463-243 advantage in pass yards.

A former Heisman Trophy candidate at Oklahoma, Rattler has been, in a word, awesome through the first two games of the season no matter the caliber of defense he faced. Rattler would exit the game midway through the third quarter, with South Carolina comfortably ahead in the contest, leading the Paladins 34-14.

Three other QBs would throw passes for the Gamecocks in the contest, as LaNorris Sellers, former quarterback-turned-wide receiver Luke Doty, and Colten Gauthier threw passes in the football game, with Sellers tossing a pair of TDs after Rattler exited the game. The 6-3, 245-lb freshman signal-caller finished the night connecting on all four of his throws for 86 yards and a pair of scores.

South Carolina’s ground attack was held at bay for a second-straight game, with the Paladins doing a nice job of closing running lanes with its seasoned, mature defensive front, limiting the Gamecocks to just 108 yards on the ground, despite only one sack against South Carolina quarterbacks the entire night. In last week’s loss to North Carolina, South Carolina was held to –2 yards on the ground, yielding nine quarterback takedowns to the Tar Heels.

Running back Dakereon Joyner was solid on the ground for South Carolina, and he ended up being the leading ground option, as he finished the evening rushing for 42 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries. Mario Anderson added 33 yards on six attempts, while Djay Braswell added 17 yards on four carries, and JuJu McDowell finished with six carries for 15 yards.

Rattler’s favorite target in the passing game was Xavier Legette, who for a second-straight outing, was outstanding catching the football for the Gamecocks. He hauled in six passes for 118 yards and a touchdown.

Also getting into the act for South Carolina were Eddie Lewis (6 rec, 89 yds), Tyshawn Russell (2 rec, 65 yds, 1 TD) Dakereon Joyner (4 rec, 53 yds), Ahmarean Brown (6 rec, 42 yds), Luke Doty (1 rec, 36 yds, 1 TD) and Nyck Harbor (1 rec, 7 yds, 1 TD).

Furman, who played a pair of quarterbacks in the contest, Tyler Huff and Carson Jones, threw one touchdown apiece in the loss.

Huff was solid all night and again showed flashes of why he was a preseason All-SoCon selection under center, and finished the night connecting on 14-of-24 passing for 129 yards, with a touchdown and an INT. He would also finish the season by rushing eight times for 15 yards and was sacked three times.

Jones, a redshirt freshman out of Maryville High School in Maryville, TN, finished the contest by completing 5-of-9 passes for 63 yards and a touchdown. Furman wideout Joshua Harris also completed the first pass of his career for 51 yards to set up Furman’s first score

On the ground, Furman was limited to just 80 yards on the ground. Leading the way was redshirt freshman Jayquan Smith, rushing for 30 yards on eight rush attempts, while leading rusher and redshirt junior running back Dominic Roberto finished the evening with 23 yards and Furman’s lone rushing score on nine carries.

Harris also led Furman’s receiving efforts with six catches for 73 yards, while true freshman was a factor for a second-straight game of his career with his tremendous speed, hauling in three passes for 53 yards. Luke Shiflett (2 rec, 9 yds, 1 TD), Kyndel Dean (1 rec, 51 yds), and Brock Chappell (1 rec, 16 yds, 1 TD) all factored significantly in the passing game for the Paladins in their first loss of 2023. All told, the Paladins had 11 different receivers catch a pass in their first road game of the 2023 campaign.

Both teams caused one turnover. South Carolina was led on the defensive side of the ball by defensive back Jalon Kilgore, who posted a team-leading six tackles, while defensive tackle T.J. Sanders added three tackles, two tackles-for-loss and a sack.

South Carolina’s lone caused turnover of the night came in the third quarter on ball that was batted out of the air along the defensive front and snagged by defensive lineman Xzavier McLeod.

Furman finished the night having been led by former Dutch Fork star Hugh Ryan, who posted 10 tackles, while Braden Gilby added nine stops. Jalen Miller was especially good at OLB, posting five tackles, three tackles-for-loss, a sack and a forced fumble.

An Alarming Trend?

That was due in no small part to the performance of South Carolina’s aerial offense and it’s ball security from the totality of its offense. Juxtaposed to that success, were some old 2022 problems that plagued the Paladin defense, which was surrendering the big play.

To it’s credit, Furman’s secondary gets more out of taking the chances it takes by placing its corners on an island and sometimes against a high-powered offense in the SEC, it can be a recipe for disaster. However, most are ok with that risk when the unit posts numbers like 57 PBUs and 18 INTs, which it was able to do last season.

Furman’s identity on defense is somewhat complex, and though it has one of the best defenses in the FCS, It has one discernible weakness, and it was something that South Carolina would find in the latter portion of the first half and exploit the rest of the game.

Looking back at the 2022 season, the Paladins surrendered seven scoring pass plays of 35 or more yards seven times, including passing touchdowns of 97, 75-, 75-, 80- and 69-yards last season. In what ended up being a 47-40 win over Western Carolina, the Paladins surrendered 462 yards and five touchdowns through the air.

It would be one of two occasions in which the Paladins, who allowed 277.7. YPG through the air to rank 115th nationally in the FCS in 2022, surrendered five touchdown passes in a game. The other would come in the 41-38 playoff loss to Incarnate Word.

Against South Carolina in its first road game of the 2023 season, Furman also yielded five passing scores and 463 passing yards to the Gamecocks. The good news is that the Paladins won’t face a Spencer Rattler the rest of the season, nor will they see a receiving corps with the array and depth of weaponry the Gamecocks put on the field Saturday night.

In my own opinion, the Gamecocks have one of the top receiving units in the SEC, if not the nation. Rattler is a quarterback that has been a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate in the past and might well be again this season after his outstanding start to the season. My final synopsis on South Carolina is that it must find a running game, and if it can do that, the Gamecocks’ offense has a chance to be special in 2023. If not, it will be tough treading as a one-dimensional offense against the rest of the SEC, and they need to start finding that running game somewhere between Saturday night and heading to two-time defending national champion Georgia next weekend.

As far as Furman is concerned, it did a lot right that will be missed, and was solid despite being down a couple of starters on the offensive line. The area of improvement is obvious. As many things as Furman does well defensively, it must improve in giving up the big play. It’s been an ever-present problem even through the success the Paladins enjoyed through a 10-win 2022, and it appears to be a lingering hangover, for at least one game, from a year ago.

How It Happened

South Carolina got the football first after Furman won the coin toss and deferred. The Gamecocks would put together a nice drive until reaching the Paladin 33 where Furman’s defense, led by a stop from cornerback Micah Robinson on a 3rd-and-5 play at the Furman 34, forcing a 50-yard field goal attempt from South Carolina’s Mitch Jeter. The kick had the distance, however, it hit the left upright.

After taking over possession at their own 33, Furman quarterback Tyler Huff rushed for a gain of 14 yards and on the second play of the drive, the Paladins used a trick play to set up a 1st-and-goal at the Gamecock 4, as Huff passed the ball to Joshua Harris behind the line of scrimmage and he would find a streaking Kyndel Dean down the middle on a deep ball for a gain of 51 yards. Four plays later, Dominic Roberto rumbled over the goal line for a 1-yard touchdown on 4th-and-goal to give the Paladins an early 7-0 lead.

"We practice it (trick/WR pass play) all the time and after practice, I throw it around a lot," Furman junior wideout Joshua Harris said of the play design and his pass. "On that particular play, I knew it was a duck but I knew I put enough power on it. After I threw it, I got hit and fell down. I looked to the sideline and saw everybody cheering, so I knew I got it there."

South Carolina’s response was swift as the Gamecocks marched 75 yards in seven plays, which was capped off by a Dakereon Joyner 3-yard scoring run, tying the contest with just under five minutes remaining in the opening quarter.

After the two teams exchanged three and outs, Furman would take the lead for the second time on the night, using an 11-play, 66-yard drive to take a 14-7 lead with just under 12 minutes to play in the half. Furman quarterback Tyler Huff tossed a short 4-yard scoring pass to Luke Shiflett to the left corner of the end zone, as the Paladins would re-take the lead.

The see-saw battle would continue, as South Carolina would punch it in to tie the football game, 14-14, when Spencer Rattler punched it in from a yard out to make it a 14–14 game to conclude a 10-play, 75-yard drive.

The game would take a drastic turn in the final 43 seconds of the opening half, allowing the Gamecocks to break open the football game, finding Furman’s kryptonite in the process, which was the deep ball.

“We're certainly disappointed with the outcome of the game. I felt late in the second quarter we were right where we wanted to be," Furman coach Clay Hendrix said. "You're going to have those tsunamis come out you from time to time, you just can't let it get followed by another one. It just snowballed on us.”

"I felt like if we could come out in the third quarter with a drive to make it a one-possession game (they would get back in it), but we just couldn't get those chunk plays. Seems like we started every drive at our 20 or 25. Against their talent, it's just hard to string a lot of those plays together."

With South Carolina facing a 4th-and-2 play at the Furman 41 with just under a minute left, South Carolina called a timeout to talk things over.

Following the timeout, the Gamecocks went to their most reliable mode of operation, which was of course to the air. Rattler tossed a perfect ball to the near sidelines to Xavier Legette for a 5-yard gain and a first down.

On the next play, he rolled out and Furman’s defensive line allowed Rattler to break containment and he had enough time to float a perfect lob over top of the Furman defense for a 36-yard scoring strike to Luke Doty, giving South Carolina a 20-14 lead after a failed fake PAT. The scoring strike would be the beginning of 40 unanswered points by the Gamecocks before it was all said and done.

Still, trailing just 20-14 with less than a minute remaining, despite the big play by the Gamecocks and the fact that the Paladin offense had been ineffective since early in the second quarter, a six-point deficit to an SEC foe heading to the half didn’t seem all that horrible.

Furman had hoped it could run out the half and get to the locker room before having to give the ball back to the Gamecock offense, which by now and much like Clemson seemed in last season’s battle against an FBS, seemed nearly unstoppable.

On Furman’s first play of the ensuing series, Huff completed a short 8-yard pass to Joshua Harris and and then after an incompletion on second down, Dominic Roberto appeared to have gained the needed two yards for the first down on the next play, which would have allowed the Paladins to run out the remaining time on the clock.

However, the referees determined Roberto’s knee before gaining the needed two yards for the first down. Furman challenged the ruling on the play, however, after replay, it was determined that the call on the field would stand and that meant the Paladins would have to punt the ball back to the Gamecocks with just 23 seconds remaining in the half.

The ball would be fair-caught by Gamecocks wideout Eddie Lewis at his own 25. On first down, Rattler launched another long one to Xavier Legette, who made an adjustment mid-route to haul in a 53-yard gain down to the Furman 22. After Rattler spiked the ball to stop the clock on second down, he then looked to the corner of the end zone in the direction of Legette again, however, both receiver and defensive back were gridlocked with hands on each other, however, it Furman’s Travis Blackshear, not Legette, that was flagged for pass interference.

With the ball down to the seven-yard line because of the penalty, the next play would see the Gamecocks score their second touchdown of the through the air, when Rattler connected with O’Mega Blake in left corner of the end zone for a seven-yard scoring strike with just three seconds to play in the half, and following the PAT from Jeter to go to the half with a 27-14 lead.

Things continued to snowball on Furman in the third quarter, and the haymakers thrown by Rattler continued to land in the waiting arms of Gamecock receivers.

After forcing a Paladin punt, Rattler’s first pass of the second half seemed like a re-run of the waning moments of the first half, as he launched a 46-yard bomb into the Columbia night, and there to run under it was Eddie Lewis to get the ball down to the Furman 44. Following a pair of rushing plays that netted a total of two yards, Rattler found Legette in the back left corner of the end zone for a score to make it a 34-14 South Carolina lead and would be his final act of the evening.

From there, the Gamecocks would tack on 13 more points via touchdown passes of 50 and seven yards by backup quarterback LaNorris Sellers. He tossed a 50-yard strike to the back corner of the left end zone to Tyshawn Russell with nine seconds remaining in the third quarter and after a mishap on the PAT, the Gamecocks led it 40-14.

Sellers’ second TD pass and the final Gamecock points of the night came a little over four minutes into the final frame, as Sellers found talented rookie wideout Nyck Harbor on a seven-yard strike to make it a 47-14 game.

Furman’s final points of the night would come with many of the backups in the game on both sides, and it offered Furman fans a little more of a glimpse at Huff’s talented understudy, in redshirt freshman Carson Jones. Jones found freshman tight end Brock Chappell for a 16-yard scoring strike to finish out the scoring.

The Paladins return to the gridiron next week for a trip to Kennesaw State. Kickoff is set for 5 p.m. at Fifth-Third State Bank Stadium.

Stay tuned to Redshirt Sports later in the week for a complete SoCon week 2 recap, power rankings and a look ahead at the Game of the Week for Week 3.