Eight of the league’s nine teams were in action this past Saturday, with the game in the Scenic City between ranked foes Western Carolina and Chattanooga highlighting the week’s matchups. With its thrilling 52-50 win over No. 20 Chattanooga, No. 17 Western Carolina snapped a 48-game losing streak against ranked foes on the road, which dates back some 39 years, as Western Carolina took another major step towards winning its first-ever Southern Conference regular-season football title.
While that was an easy headliner, three other games that saw the league race get further definition as we make the transition to the latter half of the 2023 season. Fourth-ranked Furman used a pair of Tyler Huff TD passes to move past arch-rival The Citadel, 28-14, in Greenville, as the Paladins improved to 4-1 overall and 2-0 in league play, while The Citadel fell to 0-6 overall and 0-3 in SoCon play, matching its worst start to a season since 1965.
East Tennessee State saw quarterback Tyler Riddell go down with another injury for the veteran Bucs signal-caller in what was a 24-6 homecoming loss to Mercer, as ETSU now looks to be down to its fourth-string quarterback–walk-on William Riddle—at least for this week against Wofford–as third-stringer Tim Dorsey also left the game against the Terriers with a concussion. . In Mercer’s win, receiver Ty James had a huge afternoon, as he finished with a school-record 14 receptions for 285 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the road win.
Samford won its second-straight Southern Conference game by going on the road to Wofford to pick up its eighth-straight win in the series over the Terriers, downing the Terriers 31-10 at Gibbs Stadium. The Bulldogs ran 87 plays and rolled up a total of 457 yards of total offense, including 252 through the air and 205 on the ground, as the Bulldogs left the Upstste of South Carolina with an impressive 31-10 win over Wofford. The win would see the Bulldogs improve to 3-3 overall and 2-2 in Southern Conference action. The Terriers dropped to 0-6 overall and 0-3 in Southern Conference action.
Week seven in the Southern Conference has two huge games that will go a long way in further defining the Southern Conference regular-season title race. Fourth-ranked Furman will be in Birmingham, AL to face off against Samford in a key Southern Conference showdown, which heading into the 2023 season, was slated to be a game that was the de facto Southern Conference championship game, however, with Samford’s struggles thus far, it obviously won’t be the game many thought it might. Furman has held up its end of that proverbial bargain, while Samford, who has won two-straight and is starting to play some of its best football of the season and the Bulldogs likely need to win out to realistically have a chance at punch an at-large ticket to the FCS playoffs, having already lost two SoCon games and having played a game against a non-Division I foe. Kickoff between the Paladins and Bulldogs is set for 1 p.m. EST Saturday afternoon at Seibert Stadium.
The other monster matchup in the Southern Conference will take place in Macon, GA.., between a Mercer team that has suddenly won two-straight and on the outskirts of the Top 25, while Chattanooga fell from 20th to No. 25 following its 52-50 homecoming loss to No. 17 Western Carolina. A loss this week would give either the Bears or the Mocs both their second Southern Conference loss of the season, as well as their third loss overall of the season. The loser is close to being effectively eliminated, and if that team is Chattanooga, it likely will end their hopes this season before they even reach the month of November, as the Mocs still have a game against Alabama looming in the final month of the regular-season.
The other two matchups will see East Tennessee State (1-4, 0-2 SoCon) and Wofford (0-6, 0-3 SoCon) do battle in Johnson City in a game that will see each team in search of their first Southern Conference win of the season, and for the Terriers, their first win overall of the season. Kickoff for that contest at William B. Greene Jr. Stadium will be 3:30 p.m. EST.
Rounding out the Southern Conference games slated for Saturday will be the Military Classic of the South, better known as the “Battle for the Silver Shako. The Citadel (0-6, 0-3 SoCon) will host VMI (2-3, 1-1 SoCon) in a game slated for a in what will mark the 79th all-time meeting renewal of one of the most historic rivalries in Southern Conference Football. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. EST at Johnson Hagood Stadium.
Western Carolina’s stock continues to rise
With its 52-50 win over No. 24 Chattanooga this past Saturday, Western Carolina will now effectively head into its off week with plenty to ponder and work on before it takes the field again in a couple weeks against Furman in a game that could put the ‘Battle for Purple Supremacy’ into a literally a standalone category–at least for the 2023 football season.
It was an epic battle, which featured little defense, with the game being a see-saw affair for more of the afternoon. The Catamounts were even able to overcome an injury to running back Desmond Reid during the contest to get a historic win, as the win snapped a 48-game losing streak for the Catamounts against ranked foes on the road, dating back to the 1984 season when the Catamounts got a win at No. 11 Furman.
The game featured 1,094 yards of combined total offense, with the Catamounts edging the Mocs in total offense, with the Mocs able to hold the advantage in passing yards, out-gaining the Catamounts 399-276 through the air.
Western Carolina, which came into the contest with Chattanooga leading the nation in total offense, finished the day with yet another 500–yard output, despite having the ball 36 less snaps (84-48). The 551-yard offensive output would see the Catamounts average an impressive 11.48 yards-per-play.
The game was thrilling throughout, featuring three touchdowns that totaled at least 50 yards in distance. The Mocs scored with under a minute remaining when Mocs quarterback Chase Artopoeus connected with Evan Brown on a short 5-yard scoring pass with just 53 seconds remaining to cut WCU’s lead to 49-48. Instead of opting to kick the PAT and tie the game, Chattanooga head coach Rusty Wright would roll the dice and decided to go for the two-point conversion and the lead.
Ailym Ford took the direct snap from center, and his jump pass was hauled in by tight end Cameron Overton in acrobatic fashion, as the Mocs took the 50-49 lead. The play looked as if Overton were going up and over the back of a Catamount defender in basketball to get a rebound.
Down only one-point, the Catamounts needed only to get in the field goal range of Richard McCollum to have a chance to end its long losing streak against ranked foes on the road. The nation’s leader in passing efficiency–Cole Gonzales–delivered once again in the clutch to bring the Catamounts back from a deficit late in the game much like he did earlier this season in a win at Eastern Kentucky.
Gonzales completed three-straight passes to AJ Columbo, as the two connected on passes of 11, 10 and 39 yards to get the Mocs moving quickly into Mocs territory all the way down to the UTC 15. After Gonzales threw his only incompletion on a pass out to the right intended for Censere Lee with four seconds remaining, Richard McCollum trotted on for the 32-yard game-winning field goal, which he put right through the uprights, setting off wild celebrations on the Catamount sidelines and ending a streak that spanned some 39 years.
McCollum’s kick also ensured WCU’s best start to a season in 49 years, as you’d have to go all the way back to the Catamounts days as a Division II program in 1974 when the Catamounts started the season by winning nine out of its first 10 games.
With the win, the Catamounts ascended into the national Top 15 in each of FCS football’s two major polls. The Catamounts found their way inside the Top 10 of the STATS FCS Media Poll, as Western Carolina was ranked No. 9 nationally when the poll was released Monday afternoon just before lunch. In the AFCA Coaches Poll, the Catamounts are ranked No. 14.
It marked the fourth-straight week Western Carolina have been ranked nationally in at least one of the two major polls, with the 2017 season marking the last time the Catamounts enjoyed such a long stay inside the national Top 25. The Catamounts spent six-straight weeks during the ‘17 campaign ranked nationally. The Catamounts’ No. 9 ranking in the STATS Media Poll marks the first time a Catamount football team has been ranked inside the Top 10 since 1993 when the program received its highest ranking as a Division I football program, at No. 8 in September of that 1993 season.
Chattanooga, meanwhile, didn’t tumble completely out of either the STATS FCS poll or the AFCA coaches poll. The Mocs fell five spots to 25th inside the FCS STATS Media Poll, while in the AFCA Coaches poll, the Mocs found themselves ranked 20th.
Western Carolina and Chattanooga combined to post 102 total points in the contest, which is the highest-scoring game in series history, surpassing the 99 combined points (63-36) between the Mocs and Catamounts in a game back in 2019.
The Catamounts will get a much needed week off before hosting No. 4 Furman on Oct. 21 at EJ Whitmire Stadium in a game that will go a long way in deciding the 2023 Southern Conference regular-season champion and automatic qualifier for the FCS playoffs. Since joining the SoCon in 1976, Western Carolina has never won a regular-season football title, while its only FCS playoff appearance came some four decades ago, when the Catamounts made that magical run to the FCS (formerly Division I-AA) national championship game before eventually losing to Southern Illinois (L, 7-43) at Johnson-Hagood Stadium in Charleston. The Catamounts reached the national title game by downing Furman, 14-7, in an epic Division I-AA semifinal game at Paladin Stadium.
Chattanooga will return to Southern Conference action Saturday, looking to remain in the league regular-season title race with a trip to Macon, GA., to take on Mercer. Kickoff for that contest is set for 4 p.m. EST. ‘
Power Rankings Heading into Week 7
- Western Carolina (5-1, 3-0 SoCon)
- Furman (4-1, 2-0 SoCon)
- Mercer (4-2, 2-1 SoCon)
- Chattanooga (4-2, 3-1 SoCon)
- Samford (3-3, 2-2 SoCon)
- VMI (2-3, 1-1 SoCon)
- Wofford (0-6, 0-3 SoCon)
- East Tennessee State (1-4, 0-2 SoCon)
- The Citadel (0-6, 0-3)
SoCon Players of the Week Following Week 6:
Offense: WR Javin Whatley (Chattanooga)
Defense: DB Sheldon Arnold II (East Tennessee State)
Special Teams: PK Richard McCollum (Western Carolina)
Game of the Week
No.5 Furman (4-1, 2-0 SoCon) at Samford (3-3, 2-2 SoCon)
Oct. 14, 2023/Birmingham, AL/Seibert Stadium / 1 p.m. EST
Series: 26th meeting/ Furman leads 13-12
A look at the game and the history of Furman-Samford
It was once a game billed as the de facto Southern Conference championship game before the 2023 season ever got underway, however, with a tough early-season slate, which included games against two of the top three teams in the Southern Conference, which both resulted in losses, and a game against SEC West member Auburn, the start to the season by the defending SoCon champion Samford Bulldogs has been surprising for its players and fans–at least for a program that holds itself to such a high standard as head coach Chris Hatcher’s club most certainly does.
Furman on the other hand, has done what it has been expected to thus far, as the Paladins sit No. 4 in the AFCA Coaches Poll, while sitting No. 5 in the FCS Stats Media Poll for a second-straight week. But that’s the problem for Clay Hendrix’s football team heading to Seibert Stadium Saturday for a showdown with Samford. It almost feels like Furman has done just enough and nothing more.
To say beginning with Oct. 14 for the remainder of the season that there will be an uptick in competition might be the biggest understatement in SoCon gridiron history. The fact remains that Furman is getting ready to face its second really good team in the SoCon, while if Samford can find its way somehow past Furman, it’s a realistic possibility that the Bulldogs could in fact win out and be seriously involved in some FCS playoff conversations.
It looks like along with Saturday’s game against the Paladins, Samford will have at least one more opportunity and maybe two to face FCS-ranked opposition on the gridiron, with games remaining at Mercer and at home vs. currently ()-ranked and Big South-OVC leader UT-Martin to close out the season. Having said all that, it’s safe to say that Samford could put enough on a playoff resume’ between now and Nov. 19 (Selection Sunday) that would allow them to almost assuredly be selected to the FCS postseason as an at-large qualifier from the SoCon. However, a loss to the Paladins this Saturday and it would almost end any hopes of being in the playoff conversation.
Furman, which enters off a lackluster, 28-14, win over The Citadel last time out, will find out a lot about who they are as a football team the next couple of weeks, playing on the road Saturday against the Bulldogs before heading to Cullowhee and EJ Whitmire Stadium to take on one of the hottest teams at any level of football, in No. 9 Western Carolina (5-1, 3-0 SoCon), who will be coming off a bye week.
Furman will have its maturity to lean on in the next couple of weeks, which is a luxury that, with the transfer portal, makes it tough to do. You can get talented and experienced players from the portal, but you can’t recruit continuity from it, which I suppose is the one major advantage the Paladins will have against both the Bulldogs and Catamounts the next couple of weeks, even if only slightly outmatched in talent.
With that said, though Furman’s players and coaches wouldn’t admit to it, the game with Samford holds all the cards for the rest of the season for Furman, and I’d argue that this game is even more important than next week’s trip to Western Carolina. Sure, that game will be big whether Furman wins or loses Saturday, but Saturday’s game at Samford will likely all but determine Furman’s playoff inclusion.
A win would not necessarily sew up an at-large bid for Furman, but it would be a major step towards that eventual fate–especially with games remaining vs. East Tennessee State, at Wofford and vs. VMI still remain, and let’s say all those would be in the win column, it would give the Paladins no worse than seven wins this season. A win Saturday at Samford for the Paladins could be the clincher, as it would likely almost clinch eight wins. However, nothing is a foregone conclusion, but with such separation between the top tier and the lower tier of the league this season, this game is paramount for the Paladins.
The history of this Southern Conference rivalry between Furman and Samford has been one that has featured seemingly close results, year-in and year-out, with the odd blowout here and there. For the most part, the 15 meetings between the two programs as Southern Conference foes have been worth the price of admission more often than not. Since joining the SoCon in 2008, Furman holds the slight 8-7 edge between the two as league rivals, however, it was Samford that had the last laugh, as the Bulldogs came to Paladin Stadium last season and handed Furman a 34-27 setback. It’s one of just two losses to FCS competition in Furman’s last 20 games against FCS competition, with the 41-38 setback to Incarnate Word in the second round of the FCS playoffs being the other. Putting it in that perspective, what Samford was able to do last year by winning at Paladin Stadium was uber-impressive.
There are plenty of games that stand out in the history of this series, however, probably the one that sticks in the mind for Furman head coach Clay Hendrix and his team is the last one. In case you’re wondering, it featured a tad bit of controversy. The loss actually changed Furman as a team for the remainder of the season, with the Paladins having been fairly good at guarding against letting something like that happen again.
Notably, after the controversial refereeing decision, Samford out-coached and out-played the Paladins straight up. Furman didn’t lose that game because of a call from a referee, but rather Furman’s sideline more let that call affect them for the remainder of the contest.
Furman and Samford first met on the gridiron back on Oct. 13, 1961, with the Paladins able to pick up a 21-14 win over the Bulldogs. Samford, which is known historically for having produced legendary Hall-of-Fame head football coach Bobby Bowden, who coached at Samford from 1959-62, and the Paladins would actually hand the former Howard College a 14-point setback in Greenville. A year later Bowden’s Bulldogs would get revenge, as Howard came to Greenville and avenged that earlier loss to the Paladins, taking a 14-7 road win.
The two teams would meet a total of 10 times before Samford would eventually join the Southern Conference in 2008, with six of those 10 meetings coming during the decade of the 1960s. After winning the first game in the series, Furman would lose the next five in the series, which all came in the decade of the ‘60s. Following what was a 34-14 setback to the Bulldogs in 1969, the Paladins and Bulldogs wouldn’t meet again for 28 years, when the Bulldogs.
That 1997 meeting between the Paladins and Bulldogs would actually take place on a Thursday night at Seibert Stadium in what was a ‘97 season that saw the Paladins come into that season as the preseason favorite to win the Southern Conference. The Paladins would come away with a 28-10 win over the Bulldogs at Seibert Stadium on the opening Thursday night of that campaign, and it marked the Paladins’ first win over the Bulldogs in 36 years. In the 18-point road win, Furman senior quarterback Chris Jonas would end up passing for 153 yards and a pair of scores, with Marq Cerqua rushed it nine times for 98 yards, which included a 72-yard run in the third quarter to break the game open and allow the Paladins to go on and get an 18-point win in Homewood.
In 1998, the Bulldogs would pay their first visit to Greenville since 1968, however, the Paladins would capture their second-straight win in the series, knocking off Pete Hurt’s Samford Bulldogs, 34-24, win at Paladin Stadium. The Paladins, which would be ravaged by injuries at the quarterback position for the better part of the 1997 and ‘98 seasons, would end up getting a solid evening from Justin Hill under center, as he connected on 5-of-13 passes for 120 yards, with a touchdown and an INT.
Highlighting the 10-point Paladin win was cornerback Daniel Roberson, who picked off a Bulldogs pass and returned it 40 yards for a touchdown early in the third quarter, and was enough to help the Paladins get past Samford. The Bulldogs’ trip to the Upstate was highlighted by a 69-yard scoring run by Rashad Brewer.
The final two meetings as non-conference foes would come during an era for Furman football that it was, much like it will be Saturday, a Top 5 team and national contender. Also like the current version, the 2004 and ‘05 Paladins were led by a transfer quarterback, with University of Florida transfer Ingle Martin leading the Paladin offense.
Furman, which would go on to win the 2004 Southern Conference title and were the No. 2 seed at season’s end in the Division I-AA playoffs, would meet a Samford team in a bit of a rebuilding mode, as the Bulldogs football program was under the direction of Bill Gray.
The Paladins, which had a defense that ranked among the top five all season, made life increasingly difficult for Bulldogs quarterback Jefferson Adcock, who despite being sacked multiple times and being hit even more, as the Paladins would go on to a huge, 45-10, home win over the Bulldogs.
In the final game between the two as non-conference opposition, The Paladins would go on to take a 45-23, as the then-10th-ranked Paladins rolled up 523 yards of total offense, which was powered largely by a ground that totaled 392 yards. Daric Carter led that cause for the Paladins with 132 yards and scored a pair of touchdowns to provide the lopsided winning margin.
The Southern Conference Era
2008 (Furman 28, Samford 27 in Birmingham): The first time the Paladins and Bulldogs would meet as Southern Conference opposition would come during the ‘08 campaign, and would be the start of a trend of thrilling league battles between the two institutions. Behind the leadership of quarterback Jordan Sorrells, the Paladins would go to Birmingham and come away with what was a thrilling 28-27 victory over the Bulldogs, using a blocked PAT by Paladin defensive lineman Kyle McKinney on a Samford potential game-tying PAT late in the contest. The blocked PAT by the Paladins came after the Seibert Stadium had seen the Bulldogs seemingly pull even with the Paladins with just under two minutes remaining, as Bulldogds quarterback Dustin Taliaferro delivered a 74-yard scoring strike to Jonathan Lowery for the score. The win marked Furman’s fifth-straight in the series.
2009 (Furman 26, Samford 24 in Greenville): For the second-straight year, Furman and Samford would face each other in a game that would come down to the wire, and for the second-straight season, it was senior defensive end Kyle McKinney to the rescue, as he blocked away a potential game-winning 38-yard field goal from Cameron Yaw, securing Furman’s sixth-straight win in the series as time expired. The win marked Furman’s 11th-straight win at Paladin Stadium.
2010: (Furman 27, Samford 10 in Birmingham): In what was a crucial Southern Conference contest for both teams, the first double-digit margin of victory for either team in the series came in 2010, as the Paladins picked up a 27-10 win over the Bulldogs at Seibert Stadium. With the two teams tied, 10-10, in the third quarter, Furman running back Jerry Williams plunged in from two yards out, commencing what was a second half shutout pitched by the Paladin defense en route to what ended up being a 17-point win. Ray Early would tack on a 34-yard field goal with a little over 10 minutes remaining, while a Samford fumble inside its own territory would set up the Paladins’ final score of the game. Spain Park High School product Adam Mims preserved the win, as he caught a pass, spun away from a would-be Bulldogs tackler, and he was able to walk into the end zone to secure the 17-point road win for the Paladins.
2011 (Samford 26, Furman 21 in Greenville): Samford broke through and secured its first win over the Paladins since the Bulldogs had defeated Furman way back in their pre-SoCon days, with 26-21 win over Furman at Paladin Stadium. Samford snapped what had been a seven-game Paladin winning streak in the series, utilizing a big day passing from quarterback Dustin Taliaferro, who passed for 234 yards and three scores, out-dueling Furman’s UCLA transfer quarterback Chris Forcier en route to the thrilling five-point Southern Conference win. Forcier’s 380 yards of total offense (356 pass yards, 24 rushing yards). Forcier’s 356 yards passing tied a single-game school record by a Furman quarterback, which was originally set by Cleve Hightower in 1969 vs. Wofford. The 380 yards of total offense by a Paladin quarterback accounted for a new single-game school record, which was also set by Hightower with 374 yards against Mississippi College during that same season. It marked the sixth time in Furman football history that it set a new passing mark, yet lost the game. While Taliaferro’s passing effort was impressive, it was off-set by a balanced ground attack, which saw Bulldogs running back Fabian Truss rush 26 times for a career-best 136 yards in the win. Meanwhile, the Samford defense put the clamps down on the Paladin ground game, bottling up the Paladins and limiting the home team to just 71 yards on the ground. Samford’s previous win over Furman had come way back in 1969, when it picked up a 34-14 win over Furman in Birmingham.
2012 (Samford 24, Furman 21 in Birmingham): The 2012 meeting between Samford and Furman is unique in that it marked the first and only time the two have opened a season by facing each other in a key Southern Conference clash, as the Bulldogs picked up what would be a crucial 24-21 win over the Paladins at Seibert Stadium. It was the first time since Furman defeated Jacksonville State on the final play of the game to secure what was a 36-35 win following an Ingle Martin-to-Justin Stepp 16-yard game-winning strike, which had allowed the then second-ranked Paladins escape the Yellowhammer State with a thrilling win. This time around, however, it would be the other side of the crown. Samford quarterback Andy Summerlin, a transfer into the program from Memphis, was impressive all afternoon for Samford, completing 23-of-37 passes for 237 yards and a couple of TDs, as he helped lead a Samford offense that nipped the Paladins in total offensive yards on the day, 366-359. However, it was Cameron Yaw’s 27-yard field goal with just 37 seconds remaining that helped the Bulldogs secure what was a thrilling 24-21 win by the Bulldogs to open the 2012 season, as well as Southern Conference play.
2013 (Furman 35, No. 20 Samford 17 in Greenville): Coming out donning all black uniforms and white helmets on Homecoming, Furman continued their march to an eventual Southern Conference title and automatic playoff bid by securing what was a 35-17 win over No. 20 Samford at Paladin Stadium in a game, which was highlighted by big plays on both sides of the ball for the Paladins. On the offensive side of things, it was wideout Andrej Suttles that would have a huge day catching the football. Suttles caught three passes for 115 yards, including an 85-yard TD late in the second quarter, while Furman quarterback Reese Hannon completed 10-of-14 passes for 159 yards and a TD. On the defensive side of the football, the Paladins sealed the win in the fourth quarter when Paladin safety Marcus McMorris picked off a Summelin pass and returned it 89 yards for a touchdown, accounting for the final points of the afternoon.
2014 (Samford 45, Furman 0 in Greenville): By some weird scheduling with apparent drawing of lots by the Southern Conference office in Spartanburg as a result of outgoing members App State, Georgia Southern and Elon the previous season, it meant that Samford would pay a visit to Paladin Stadium for a second-straight season. Furman might have just opted to forfeit the game all together if they’d have known what the 2014 clash between the two would result in, which was one of the worst losses in Furman’s rich Southern Conference football tradition, while Samford also posted one of its biggest SoCon road wins in the process. Samford quarterback Michael Eubank passed for a career-high 314 yards and a TD, while hauling in one of two TD passes from true freshman wideout Malik Johns, leading Samford to a 45-0 blowout win over Furman on Homecoming at Paladin Stadium. The loss, which was the sixth-straight for the Paladins, marking the first time the Paladins had been shutout in a game since 1998 in the season opener at Clemson (35-0/199 games), and also marked the first time the Paladins had been shutout on the home turf since 1992 (L, 21-0 vs. Georgia Southern). To put Samford’s homecoming road win in even more perspective, it was the first time Furman was shutout by a Southern Conference opponent since The Citadel posted a 24-0 win over the Paladins in 1974. The 45-point loss to the Bulldogs marked the third-worst loss in Furman Southern Conference history. Furman is one of two charter members of the SoCon along with The Citadel. Only a 1969 loss to Davidson (77-14) and a 1950 setback to Clemson (57-2) accounted for worse league defeats. The 45-0 win by the Bulldogs is the largest margin of victory in the series for either school, eclipsing the previous record margin of victory of 35 points, which dates back to a 45-10 win by Furman in 2004. It also marked the worst loss in Paladin Stadium history (34 seasons) eclipsing the previous margin of defeat of 30 points set back in 1997, with a 58-28 homecoming loss to East Tennessee State. Eubank was only part of what was a big afternoon for the Samford offense, which out-gained the Paladins 540-252 in total yards in the contest, as Denzel Williams ran the ball well for the Bulldogs, gaining 101 yards and scored a pair of rushing TDs on 19 attempts, as he averaged 5.3 YPC in the Bulldog win.
2015 (Furman 20, Samford 17 in Birmingham): Furman stormed back from a 17-point halftime deficit and in the process, posted its largest come-from-behind win in a game since 1973, with a 20–17 win at Seibert Stadium over Samford. The Bulldogs have now dropped three-straight and four of their last five contests with the loss to the Paladins. Furman, which came in on the heels of back-to-back losses to The Citadel (L, 38–17) and Chattanooga (31–3), snapped its two-game skid with the win. Furman’s Jon Croft Hollingsworth was 2-for-2 on field goals in the contest, posting his second game-winning kick of the season, as he knocked home a 19-yard field goal as time expired to help the Paladins to the come-from-behind win. The Paladins started on the comeback trail with a 43-yard scoring run from Antonio Wilcox, who rushed for a career-high 133 yards and a score, while starting quarterback P.J. Blazejowski connected on 14-of-28 throws for 174 yards, a TD and a pair of INTs. Defensively, the Paladins got another huge afternoon from linebacker Cory Magwood, who posted a game-high 16 tackles, including 10 of which were solo stops, and his linebacking mate Carl Rider added 10 stops. Senior cornerback Reggie Thomas added a late-game interception, allowing the Paladins to turn it into what proved to be the game-winning points by Hollingsworth. The Paladins held the Bulldogs to their lowest point total (17 pts) among FCS opponents. The 462 yards of total offense by the Paladins were the most it gained in a game in the 2015 season against a SoCon foe, and the most since the season-opening 525-yard output against Coastal Carolina.
2016: (Samford 38, Furman 21 in Greenville): Samford came to Greenville and handed Furman a 38-21 setback, as Bulldogs signal-caller Devlin Hodges completed 27-of-38 passes for 411 yards and three scores, pacing the Bulldogs and their high-octane ‘Hatch Attack’ to a second-straight win at Paladin stadium. Hodges’ favorite target in the winning effort for the Bulldogs was Karel Hamilton, who hauled in seven passes for 168 yards and two scores in the win. Not to be out-done was Samford running back Justin Curry, who completed the contest with 102 rushing yards and a touchdown on 22 carries. It was part of an afternoon that saw the Bulldogs out-gain Furman, 517-415, in total offense. The Paladins were paced offensively by Reese Hannon, who finished the contest with 301 yards passing, with two TDs and an INT on 30-of-50 passing. In the process, Hannon would become Furman’s all-time leading passer with 6,384-career passing yards. His favorite target in the Paladin passing attack was Andrej Suttles, who finished the day with five catches for 63 yards and a pair of scores. The loss marked the sixth-straight to open the season for the Paladins, marking the program’s worst start to a gridiron campaign since the () season. The game also marked the first time Samford head coach Chris Hatcher had faced off against the Paladins as the Bulldogs head coach, however, not the first time he faced off against the Paladins. At Hatcher’s previous destination as a coach in the SoCon, the great offensive innovator faced the Paladins three times as head coach at Georgia Southern (2007-09), going 1-2 vs. the ‘Dins during that time frame.
2017 (No. 17 Samford 26, No. 20 Furman 20 in Birmingham): Furman saw its chance to claim a share of the Southern Conference title come to an end in Dixie, while Samford kept its FCS playoff hopes alive by gutting out a 26-20 win at Seibert Stadium, capturing its seventh Division I win in the process, making the Bulldogs playoff eligible. The win saw the Bulldogs improve to 8-3 overall and 6-2 in the SoCon, while Furman fell to 7-4 overall and 6-2 in league play. The win by the Bulldogs nullified a potential tie for the SoCon regular-season crown, which would have been the 14th in program history. It was an even matchup all evening, with both teams finishing the contest with 411 yards of total offense. Samford signal-caller Devlin Hodges 25-of-37 passes for 305 yards, with two TDs and an INT in leading the Bulldogs to the win. Furman finished the contest by rushing for 182 yards and passing for 229 yards in the six-point loss. It was the first meeting between the Paladins and Bulldogs in Clay Hendrix’s tenure as the head coach. Both teams would end up making the FCS postseason.
2018 (Samford 38, Furman 25 in Greenville): Led eventual Walter Payton Award winning quarterback Devlin Hodges, Southern Conference preseason SoCon title favorite Samford came to Furman and handed the Paladins a 38-25 setback at Paladin Stadium. In a game in which the preseason league title favorite would face the eventual tri-champion Paladins, the game would see some twists and turns along the way before the Bulldogs were able to produce a game-changing play with its defense in the third quarter to pick up the win. The first interesting twist to the tale was when Furman starting quarterback Harris Roberts was knocked out of the game early in the opening quarter, forcing true freshman Darren Grainger into the lineup for the Paladins. Hodges finished off what was an outstanding performance under center by connecting on 40-of-52 pass attempts for 402 yards and a pair of scores. Furman field goal kicker Grayson Atkins matched an NCAA Division I record for most 50-yard field goals in a game, connecting on field goals of 50, 51 and 53 yards–part of a four field goal performance–as the Paladins saw their six-game home winning streak come to an end. Furman was able to take a surprising 19-10 lead when Grainger, a true freshman, connected with Thomas Gordon for what was a 77-yard scoring strike just five minutes into the third quarter.However, the game would change when later in the quarter, Grainger fumbled an option pitch, which was picked up by talented Samford defensive end Ahmad Gooden and returned 58 yards for a score. Gooden’s fumble return for a score would spark a run of four-straight touchdowns by Samford to round out a wild game, as the Bulldogs took home a 13-point win, running its winning streak to three-straight in the series.
2019 (Furman 58, Samford 14 in Birmingham): Furman ran up its biggest margin of victory in the series against Samford, using a 647-yard performance from its offense en route to what was a 58-14 win over the Bulldogs at Seibert Stadium in Birmingham. The 647-yard effort by the Paladins marked the third-most yards gained in a single game by a Paladin offense in program history. The win by Furman snapped what had been a three-game winning streak for the Bulldogs in the series. Furman won the game with an efficiency that the Bulldogs could never contend with, as the Paladins scored on their first nine possessions of the game.
2020-21 (Furman 44, Samford 37 OT in Greenville): The only overtime clash between the two would take place during the COVID-19 spring season of 2020-21, as the Paladins were able to capture a thrilling 44-37 win over the Bulldogs in overtime, with Cally Chizik coming up with the game-winning fumble recovery to seal the Paladin win. Making the win even more impressive was the fact that the Paladins actually trailed the contest 37-23 in the fourth quarter. However, Hamp Sisson would first connect with Ryan DeLuca for a 31-yard scoring strike and then found tight end Ryan Miller on a throwback screen pass, and Miller did the rest by out-running the Samford defensive backs for a score and a tie game. With the game tied, 37-37, and headed to overtime, the Paladins got the ball first, and it was running back Devin Wynn, who would cap the scoring drive with a nine-yard scoring run to open the overtime session to give the Paladins the 44-37 lead following the Grayson Atkins PAT. Samford drove all the way down to the Furman 2-yard line on its opening possession of the extra session, however, Furman defensive tackle Matt Sochovka broke through the line and hit Samford running back Jay Stanton for dislodge the football and it would eventually be recovered by Chizik, sealing a thrilling seven-point home win for the Paladins.
2021 (Furman 41, Samford 34): Furman closed out its 2021 football season in a positive fashion, finishing the season with a bang, as the Paladins rushed for 358 yards en route to a 41-34 win over Samford at Seibert Stadium. The Paladins posted a huge 358-81 advantage in rushing yards, as Dominic Roberto pulverized the Bulldog defense for a career-high 216 yards on 22 rush attempts, however, did not record a rushing score in the contest. Also accounting for a large chunk of the ground production was Roberto’s backfield mate Devin Abrams, who finished with 110 yards on 18 carries, and Devin Wynn finished out a strong career rushing the ball for the Paladins, with a pair of scores via the ground, as he posted No. 30 and 31 rushing scores in his career to cap off a pair of Paladin scoring drives. Along with the 358 yards on the ground, the Paladins were also able to be effective through the air throwing the football, as signal-caller Jace Wilson completed 7-of-11 passes for 145 yards and a touchdown, finishing his rookie season with a 4-2 record as Furman’s starting quarterback.
2022 (No. 16 Samford 34, Furman 27 in Greenville): Jaylan Thomas rushed for 104 yards and three touchdowns, and No. 16 Samford converted a pair of Furman turnovers into 14 points, as the Bulldogs snapped a three-game losing streak in the series against the Paladins, with a 34-27 Southern Conference triumph before 9,507 fans at Paladin Stadium. Thomas was outstanding all day, whether catching the ball out of the backfield, or running the ball. He finished the contest rushing for 104 yards on just five carries, with three touchdowns. He ended the contest averaging a whopping 20.8 yards-per-Samford quarterback Michael Hiers, who was the reigning Southern Conference Offensive Player of the Week, finished the contest connecting on 29-of-38 passes for 228 yards with a pair of touchdown passes and an INT.Furman was led under center by Jace Wilson, who made his first start of the season under center for injured starter Tyler Huff, completed 38-of-59 passes for 329 yards, three touchdowns and no INTs. Wilson also rushed for 38 yards on 14 attempts and got sacked three times. All told, the sophomore from Missouri City, TX., accounted for 367 yards of total
Two Reviews…One Play
While “the play” didn't decide Saturday's contest, as a decision made by an officiating crew never really does, it without question changed the momentum of the contest. Furman's response defensively to the adversity was not the type of response that a team in hopes of winning a Southern Conference title should have.That said, despite the decision rendered by the officiating crew following an unheard of "double-review" and a 13-plus minute stoppage of play, Samford won the game on its merits, playing an excellent football game on both sides of the ball.
2023 Game Preview:
Furman and Samford will face off in a Southern Conference game that will have major FCS playoff implications. A loss for Samford would effectively eliminate the Bulldogs from FCS postseason contention, while a win would put the Bulldogs squarely back into the FCS at-large playoff conversation. A win by the Paladins would mean it could likely end the season with no worse than an eight losses, assuming the Paladins get wins in games against East Tennessee State and VMI at home, and on the road at Wofford to close out the season.
This game has a lot of intrigue, too, as a result of the fact that it has become one of the more recent SoCon football rivalries to emerge, and as noted above, many of those previous gridiron battles have gone right down to the wire.
Saturday’s battle between the fourth or fifth-ranked Paladins (depending on the poll) sees a Samford offense that is once again reaching optimum levels under preseason SoCon Player of the Year Michael Hiers (172-of-240 passing, 1,768 yds, 10 TDs, 7 INTs). Hiers, along with Western Carolina’s Cole Gonzales, are likely a pair of quarterbacks in contention for the prestigious Walter Payton Award, which is given to the nation’s top player at the FCS level.
While Hiers is putting up more prolific numbers than he did a year ago to this point in the season, his interceptions total has gone up after having just thrown four last season. He’s already had two of his passes returned for scores this season, however, in his defense, not all seven of those errant throws have proven to be his fault either. That said, it is notable that teams have been able to get pressure at times against the prolific passer, having sacked him 18 times through the first six games this season already, which means the Hiers is getting sacked about three times per game this season.
A majority of those seven INTs this season have come when teams have been able to get pressure on Hiers. Pressure has been about the only thing that has been able to slow one of the nation’s best this season, however, as Hiers’ 1,768 passing yards and 10 TDs leads all Division I quarterbacks in passing yards.
Part of what has made Hiers such a successful quarterback under center for a second-straight season for Samford is the fact he’s had a great option behind him running the football, in Jay Stanton (75 rush att, 423 yards, 6 TDs, 5.6 YPC), who has run the ball particularly well in each of Samford’s last two wins over East Tennessee State 25 rush att, 177 yds, 2 TDs() and Wofford (19 rush att, 104 yds, 2 TDs). All told, in the two wins vs. Division I competition this season Stanton has 281 yards on the ground to go along with four TDs. Quite simply, the ability to effectively run the football makes this Samford offense exponentially more dangerous than what it had been prior to that this season, which is mostly a one-dimensional tempo passing attack. It marked the first time in a decade that the Bulldogs have had a running back to rush for 100 yards in back-to-back games. In addition to his running ability, Stanton also has 10 catches for 50 yards and a TD out of the backfield for the Bulldogs.
If you peruse the stats from last year’s Samford, 34-27, win in Greenville, you’ll find that Samford actually out-rushed the Paladins, posting a 132-128 advantage in rushing yards. Last year’s contest would see Jaylan Thomas rush for 104 yards and three touchdowns on just five rush attempts. Aside from Stanton, the Bulldogs have two other effective ground-gainers, in Mychael Hamilton (35 rush att, 181 yds, 3 TDs, 5.2 YPC) and Damonta Witherspoon (42 rush att, 172 yards, 3 TDs, 4.1 YPC).
While the running backs room has been solid the past two games, it’s the plethora of options that Hiers has at wide receiver that makes this version of the ‘Hatch Attack’ offense so dangerous, which is similar to pretty much any offense in the Hatcher era in Homewood. It all starts with all-conference wideout Chandler Smith (38 rec, 465 yds, 3 TDs, 12.2 YPR), who is one of the most sure-handed wideouts in FCS football. Smith has been sensational catching the football for a second-straight season for the Bulldogs, and he teams with veterans Ty King (29 rec, 393 yds, 2 TDs, 13.6 YPR) and RJ Starkey (12 rec, 122 yds, 10.2 YPR), while freshman Brendan Jenkins (21 rec, 152 yds, 2 TDs, 5.2 YPR) has been among the top freshman offensive players in the Southern Conference for most of the season.
Michael Vice (3 rec, 9 yds, 1 TD) rounds out Hiers’ reliable options in the passing game this season, and he’s a player that has returned to the program after spending the previous couple seasons at FBS Troy.
The Samford offensive line was one of the question marks for this prolific unit coming into the season, and it has remained a work in progress as the season has progressed, although the unit has seemingly been blocking much better the past couple of weeks. The OL is a veteran group, however, with the youngest player along the offensive line in terms of class being junior right tackle Darian King, who is one of several East Mississippi Community College transfers on the roster. The offensive line has been anchored this season by its left side with left tackle and Chris Noble and left guard–a preseason All-SoCon selection–anchoring the veteran group. All told, the starting five along the Samford offensive front has helped the Bulldogs average 436.0 YPG and 31.0 PPG this season.
Furman counters with a defense that is as veteran as the Bulldogs will face this season and one that is one of the Paladins find themselves regarded by many in the media as a team that is not only favored to win the Southern Conference, but also one that could make a deep run in the FCS playoffs. With games on the road at Samford and Western Carolina the next couple of weeks, this defense will find out a lot about itself.
The Paladins come into Saturday’s contest leading the SoCon in both scoring defense (22.6 PPG/27th in FCS) and rushing defense (110.6 YPG/23rd in FCS). It all starts up front with its veteran leadership along the defensive line, with defensive tackle Matt Sochovhka (7 tackles, 3.0 TFL, 1.0 sack, 2 QBHs) anchoring the unit, and he is one of the most-veteran performers on either side of the football for the Paladins. Defensive end Jack Barton (9 tackles, 2.0 TFL, 0.5 sack, 3 QBH, 1 blkd kick) is another veteran leader along that defensive front for the Paladins, and that unit’s experience and know-how has been one of the main reasons Furman has been so tough to run the ball against the past couple of seasons.
To highlight how good the Paladin ground defense has been over their past 11 outings, they have limited 1,067 yards and 10 TDs on 361 rush attempts, which means the Paladins are essentially limiting foes to just under three yards (2.95) per rush attempt. The Paladins are limiting foes to an average of 97.0 YPG on the ground over that same span.
At linebacker, the Paladins rely on the leadership of their inside guys, in Braden Gilby (30 tackles, 3.0 TFL, 1.0 sack, 1 FR), Evan DiMaggio (25 tackles, 2.5 TFL) and Dan Scianna (17 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 1 INT, 1 TD). The Paladins do a nice job of using the full extent of their depth on the defensive side of the ball, and that is especially true at all four linebacker spots, which can be noted by the tackles distribution statistically. The Paladins, which have just seven sacks through six games, generate most of their pressure from the OLB positions, with both Luke Clark (21 tackles, 0.5 TFL, 2 QBHs) and Jalen Miller (9 tackles, 3.0 TFL, 1.0 sack, 1 FF) being the two primary OLBs that defensive coordinator Duane Vaughn will look to mix up his pressure with schematically.
The one discernible weakness for the 2023 edition of the Paladin defense has been its propensity to give up the big play, which plagued the Paladins in their lone loss to South Carolina (L, 21-47) earlier this season, and has crept to be a problem at others, which the Paladins have won.
Veteran leadership comes with the trio of cornerback Travis Blackshear (17 tackles, 2.0 TFL, 7 PBUs, 2 INTs, 1 TD), free safety Hugh Ryan (35 tackles, 1.0 TFL, 2 PBUs, 1 QBH, 1 FF) and strong safety Kam Brinson (21 tackles, 4 PBUs), who have combined to make 97 starts in the Furman secondary during their respective careers. Blackshear is the veteran-most player on Furman’s defense, and he’s slated to make his 46th start in his Paladin career Saturday, while Ryan will be making his 38th start and Brinson his 21st.
All told defensively, the Paladins come into Saturday’s showdown surrendering 379.4 YPG (67th in FCS), with a majority of that yardage coming via the air, as Furman surrenders 269.0 (110th in FCS), which is about where Furman would finish last season, giving up 271.0 YPG through the air. Much of that yardage over the past couple of seasons has come on long pass plays. That area of the defense, and their ability to prevent those plays, will be tested more in the next couple of weeks than it has at any point this season.
On offense, the Paladins have been mediocre and plodding at times this season, but solid for the most part. While the defense has been a unit that has given up big chunk plays, Furman head coach Clay Hendrix probably wishes his offense could come by a few of those plays this season. Like the defensive side of the football, Furman has veteran leadership all over the side on the offensive side of the football as well.
It all starts with quarterback Tyler Huff (92-of-132 passing, 852 yards, 4 TDs, 3 INTs), as the graduate senior has been outstanding during his two years as the Paladins signal-caller, having started and played in 17 of 18 games over the past couple of seasons, going 14-3 in games which he has started, with the lone losses coming against FBS foes Clemson (L, 12-35) and South Carolina (L, 21-47), with the lone FCS foe he has lost to in a game he has started for the Paladins coming against Incarnate Word (L38-41), ) in last season’s FCS playoffs. The only game Huff missed as a starter was last season’s 34-27 home loss by the Paladins against the Bulldogs.
Huff, who rushed for a single-season program mark by a quarterback of 694 yards last season, is off to another strong start this season. In fact, entering game six of the 2023 season, Huff leads the Paladin ground attack, having 312 yards and four touchdowns on 57 attempts this season. He’s averaging 5.5 yards-per-rush attempt. While Huff has done almost everything well as the Furman signal-caller over the past couple of seasons, the one weakness in his game is his accuracy on the deep ball, which has seen the strong-armed signal-caller overthrow his targets more than he’s underthrown them.
Huff’s ability to beat teams with his legs has come in handy, especially the past couple of weeks with the Paladins having been hit by a number of injuries at what is arguably the team’s deepest position–running back. Dominic Roberto (69 rush att, 266 yds, 5 TDs, 3.9 YPC) has been less than 100% each of the past couple of ball games, having sustained an injury against Kennesaw State, while backup and talented freshman running back Jay’Quan Smith (28 rush att, 123 yds, 2 TDs, 4.4 YPC) went down with a season-ending injury against The Citadel last week. That leaves Myion Hicks (15 rush att, 78 yds, 2 TDs) and Wayne Anderson Jr. ( 7 rec., 24 yds , 3.4 YPR), who is currently a wide receiver for the Paladins, having made the move from running back to wideout prior to last season.
Anderson, who is one of the fastest guys on the offensive side of the ball as well as on the team, has rushed for 36 yards and a touchdown on five attempts this season. He’s also a threat in the kickoff return game for the Paladins, which has seen him average 28.5 yards-per-return this season, which ranks him first overall in the SoCon in that category.
Furman has a deeper receiving corps than it normally does, and this might be the deepest and most talented unit the Paladins have had under Hendrix. It had to be deep, with the Paladins having to make up for the loss of their big-play tight end Ryan Miller, who exhausted his eligibility before signing a free agent deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The two players that have helped tag-team the position this season so-to-speak have hauled in two of the team’s five passing TDs this season.
Mason Pline (10 rec, 71 yds, 1 TD, 7.1 YPR) transferred in from Division II powerhouse Ferris State, and though he doesn’t have the speed of a player like Ryan Miller, he has the size and athleticism to give opposing defensive coordinators headaches, at 6-7, 260 lbs. Brock Chappell (2 rec, 20 yds, 1 TD, 10.0 YPR), who has been among Furman’s most talented freshman performers and hauled in a 16-yard scoring pass against South Carolina earlier this season, will spell Pline at the position on Saturday
Furman has had 18 different players catch a pass this season from a Paladin signal-caller this season, highlighting their overall variety of options and versatility in the passing game this season. The two most reliable options are Joshua Harris (20 rec, 188 yds, 9.4 YPR) and James Madison graduate transfer Kyndel Dean (14 rec, 184 yds, 13.1 YPR/1 rush TD), who is in his second season with the program. Freshman speedster Colton Hinton (13 rec, 127 yds, 9.8 YPR) and the always-reliable redshirt freshman Ben Ferguson (10 rec, 170 yds, 17.0 YPR) have been clutch, while Luke Shiflett (5 rec, 59 yds, 2 TDs, 8.4 YPR) is Furman’s “do-everything” wideout, and he’s the best blocker among the unit.
Furman’s offensive line is among the best in the country, and for Samford, the third elite unit that it has seen this season defensively this season, with Auburn and Western Carolina having been the other two. Furman has a pair of All-SoCon performers along its offensive front, and one All-American. The two all-league players along the offensive front are Jacob Johanning at right guard, while Pearson Toomey is the starter at left tackle. Toomey and Johanning have a combined 59 starts through their respective Paladin careers along the offensive front, with Johanning only having just returned vs. Mercer three weeks ago after having suffered a preseason injury. This will mark the third game this season the Paladins have had their entire five back starting together up front.
With that said, it’s been a mixed bag offensively so far this season coming into Saturday’s mid-season clash against the Bulldogs. Furman is averaging a solid 32.6 PPG (25th in FCS), but has at times looked very average offensively, putting up a total of just 367 yards-per-game, which ranks 51st overall in the FCS in total offense. The Paladin offensive front has surrendered nine sacks through the first five games, with eight sacks of those sacks surrendered coming in the first three games.
The game may very well hinge on Samford’s ability to stop Furman’s ground game, which is led by Huff and Roberto. The Bulldogs have looked better on that side of the football over at least the last three halves, surrendering just 17 points in 45 minutes of football games against East Tennessee State and Wofford. Clearly, the defensive side of the football that was one hit hardest by graduation during the off-season.
Along the defensive front, the Bulldogs have been led all season by the outstanding play along the front by defensive end Joseph Mera (9 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 3.0 sacks), who comes into Saturday’s clash with the Paladins having posted three of the team’s seven sacks this season. He will team with Josiah Cotton (23 tackles, 3.0 TFL, 1.0 sack, 1 PBU, 2 QBHs), Josh Mathiasen (6 tackles) and Jamall Thompson (6 tackles, 1.0 TFL, 1.0 sack) along the Bulldogs defensive front against the Paladins. Samford’s run defense has been decent this season, giving up just 166.7 YPG on the ground, and defensively, the Bulldogs have been solid (391.0 YPG), but not great this season.
At the second level of the Samford defense, there were concerns coming into the season, with losses of some talented and veteran performers like Nathan East from last season’s team. This year, Noah Martin (49 tackles, 9.5 TFL, 1.0 sack, 2 PBUs) has taken on that leadership role in the middle of the Bulldogs defense, and he team’s with Jaden Mosley (27 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 1 INT, 1 PBU, 1 QBH) in the middle of that Bulldogs defensive unit.
The back end of the Samford defense struggled early in the season against some pretty solid receiving corps, namely those at both Auburn and Western Carolina. The unit has an all-conference performer, as well as potentially one of the top safeties in the FCS, in rover Kourtlan Marsh (33 tackles, 1 INT, 4 PBUs, 1 FR). Marsh has shown the athleticism to make acrobatic plays in pass defense like the INT he hauled in against Auburn, as well as being able to come up and be a fundamentally-sound tackler in making stops against the run. Marsh, in fact, enters the contest against the Paladins as Samford’s third-leading tackler this season.
Garrett Morris (34 tackles, 1.0 TFL, 1.0 sack, 2 PBUs, 2 QBHs) has been a nice addition to the Bulldogs defense, having already served a key role at nickel after transferring in from Penn. The Bulldogs also have a pair of transfers at cornerback, in former Austin Peay Governor Devin Smith (23 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 4 PBUs) and former Akron Zip Dontae Pollard (20 tackles, 3 PBUs).
Both football teams will find out a lot about themselves the next few weeks, and in particular Furman, who has back-to-back tests at preseason co-favorite (coaches poll) and the new favorite to win the SoCon this season, in the Western Carolina Catamounts. Add to that a trip to Chattanooga in early November and it makes Saturday’s game Samford’s the most important of the season, and I say that in terms of when we take a retrospective look back at Furman’s 2023 football season, we will look at the Samford game as to whether the season going forward was a success or a disappointment and I truly believe the result of this game will determine so much about both teams. With that said, the teams are almost everywhere, however, the one major difference I see is special teams, and in particular punting.
The Bulldogs don’t do well when they have to punt the ball, and giving a Furman team a short field is not a recipe for success, despite their struggles offensively. The Paladins rank 33rd nationally in red zone offense, scoring 88% of the time. The Bulldogs rank 108th nationally in net punting, (32.2 YPP). Just two weeks ago against a Mercer team that currently ranks 120th, the Paladins made the Bears pay dearly for surrendering such good field position, as the Paladins broke open a close game in the second half to come away with a 38-14 contest. I think because of this issue for the Bulldogs, it will prove most costly against a talented team like Furman. Paladins win a close one.
Final Prediction: Furman 34, Samford 31
Just The Pick
Three other key league games take place Saturday, with the most notable taking place in Macon, GA, as Mercer hosts No. 25 Chattanooga in a 4 p.m. league tilt. Here’s how we think each game will pan out.
- Mercer 28, No. 25 Chattanooga 24
- VMI 14, The Citadel 10
- Wofford 9, East Tennessee State 7