#20 Furman 2018 FCS Football Preview

Furman Paladins
Overall Rank: #20
#2 SoCon
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Coach Clay Hendrix had a great debut campaign as the head coach of Furman. The Paladins went 6-2 in Southern Conference play and reached the playoffs for the first time since 2013. They slipped past Elon 28-27 in the first round, before falling to Wofford for the second time in the season. Furman has some big holes to fill, especially on offense, but Coach Hendrix has an experienced defense that can lead this team back to the playoffs.
2017 Record: 8-5, 6-2
2017 Postseason: FCS Playoffs
Coach: Clay Hendrix (8-5 at Furman, 8-5 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: George Quarles
Defensive Coordinator: Chad Staggs
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Kealand Dirks, RB, 720 yards
Passing: Harris Roberts, QB, 110 yards
Receiving: Thomas Gordon, WR, 717 yards
Tackles: Bryan Okeh, S, 83
Sacks: Chinedu Okonya, DE, 4.5
Interceptions: Aaquil Annor, S, 2; Darius Kearse, CB, 2; Dillon Vann, DB, 2
Other Key Returnees: TB Darius Morehead, LB Elijah McKoy, LB Chris Washington, DT Jonah Tibbs, DL Jaylan Reid
Key Losses: RB Antonio Wilcox, QB PJ Blazejowski, TE Andy Schumpert, WR Logan McCarter, OL Terrell Bush, OL Matthew Schmidt, LB Reynard Ellis, LB Joe Farrar
Replacing quarterback PJ Blazejowski and running back Antonio Wilcox are the big storylines heading into the 2018 season. Harris Roberts spent last season as Blazejowski’s backup, throwing for 110 yards and running for 71 more in very limited playing time. The 6-4 senior has been around the program for quite some time though and should be ready to take over the offense. Thomas Gordon and tight end Darius Morehead form a decent receiving corps. But the Paladins will stick to the ground more often than not. While Wilcox is gone, Kealand Dirks and Darius Morehead are proven rushers. Dirks tallied 720 yards and nine touchdowns, while Morehead added 588 yards and five scores.
The defense was not great last season, but now this is a very experienced group. Chinedu Okonya, Jaylan Reid and Jonah Tibbs lead a line that can attack the opposition from all sides. Furman led the SoCon in sacks last year, but no player had more than 4.5 sacks. Elijah McKoy and Chris Washington will be the leaders at linebacker after combining to record 147 tackles. The secondary was the weak spot of the team in 2017, allowing 227.7 yards per game through the air, but it could be a strength this year. All four starters are back, led by free safety Bryan Okeh and his 83 tackles. Strong safety Aaquil Annoor is a good playmaker and cornerback Darius Kearse had a very promising freshman campaign. If the defense can continue to develop, this could be one of the better defenses in the conference.
The Bottom Line:
The season begins with trips to Clemson and Elon. But even if the Paladins start 0-2, the conference schedule is relatively friendly. A three game home stretch against Western Carolina, Wofford and Samford starting on September 29th will decide Furman’s fate relatively early in the season. If the Paladins struggle through that stretch, getting back to the playoffs will be extremely difficult. But with all those games at home, Furman has the potential to make back-to-back playoff appearances for the first time since 2006.
Projected Postseason: FCS Playoffs
2017 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 225.8 (13th in nation, 4th in conference)
Passing Offense: 197.8 (71, 4)
Total Offense: 423.6 (26, 2)
Scoring Offense: 32.6 (22, 1)
Rushing Defense: 149.3 (59, 4)
Pass Defense: 227.7 (76, 8)
Total Defense: 377.0 (67, 5)
Scoring Defense: 23.9 (46, 4)
Turnover Margin: 0.23 (46, 5)
Sacks: 2.62 (26, 1)
Sacks Allowed: 0.54 (1, 1)
HERO Sports 2018 Recruit Rankings:
#188 Hamp Sisson
#222 Cameron Coleman