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Furman Faces Tall Test Saturday Against Second-Ranked Clemson

Jonah Tibbs
Jonah Tibbs

GREENVILLE, S.C. -- Furman will open its 2018 football season on Saturday when it travels to Clemson to face the consensus Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) second-ranked Tigers.  Kickoff for the ACC Network televised contest is set for 12:20 p.m. at Memorial Stadium.

Click here for a list of ACC network affiliates carrying the game.

Fans can also follow the action on the IMG/Furman Sports Network via a number of ways, including Greenville flagship station FoxSports 1440 AM, campus station WPLS 95.9 FM, and online via Stretch Audio thru FurmanPaladins.com, as well as thru Tune-In Radio on the Furman/IMG channel.  In addition, fans in the stadium venue can enjoy the broadcasts via in-stadium transmitter on a frequency to be announced later this week.  Dan Scott, entering his eighth season as "The Voice of the Furman Paladins," will call the play-by-play, and former Paladin offensive lineman David Cobb will provide analysis.

Paladin fans traveling to the game are advised of Clemson's metal detector and clear bag policies described here.

The contest will mark the 57th football clash between the Paladins and Tigers in a series that dates from Oct. 31, 1896, when Furman provided the opposition in Clemson's first football contest.  The Tigers sport a 42-10-4 all-time record against Furman and have won the last 30 meetings, including a 41-7 verdict registered in 2012.

As the No. 2-ranked team in the FBS, Clemson is the highest ranked team Furman has faced in football, topping the 1988 version of the Tigers, who were ranked third and beat the Paladins, 23-3, in what turned out to be Furman's 12-2, national championship season.

Clemson, the reigning ACC champion and College Football Playoff participant a year ago in a 12-2 campaign, will be the highest ranked foe faced by an Football Championship Subdivison (FCS) program this week.  The Paladins are ranked 21st and 23rd in the AFCA Coaches and STATS FCS preseason polls, respectively.

Furman registered its last win over an FBS foe in 2015, beating Central Florida, 16-15.

The Paladins return 15 starters off last year's team that posted an 8-5 record and advanced to the second round of the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) playoffs under first year head coach Clay Hendrix, the consensus SoCon Coach of the Year in 2017.  Following an 0-3 start a year ago, the Paladins reeled off seven straight wins and competed for share of the SoCon championship in the regular season finale, dropping a 26-20 verdict to Samford.  A 28-27 road win over Elon in FCS first round playoff action ensured the Paladins a No. 19 ranking in the final STATS FCS poll — Furman's first Top 25 poll finish in five seasons.

Nine starters, led by senior All-SoCon safety Aaquil Annoor (64 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 2 FF), sophomore linebacker Elijah McKoy (81 tackles, 1 FF), and redshirt senior All-SoCon nose guard Jaylan Reid (45 tackles, 8.5 TFL, 2 sacks) return off a defensive unit that paced the SoCon in sacks (34) a year ago.

Offensively, Furman sports more youth with only five returning regulars paced by redshirt senior running back Kealand Dirks (720 rushing yds., 9 TDs), junior wide receiver Thomas Gordon (39 rec., 717 yds., TD), and sophomore offensive lineman Reed Kroeber, a SoCon All-Freshman Team and Hero Sports Freshman All-America pick a year ago.

The biggest position losses include All-America/SoCon Jacobs Blocking Award center Matthew Schmidt, All-SoCon quarterback P.J. Blazejowski (2,461 yds. passing, 19 TDs, 172.3 pass efficiency rating), All-SoCon running back Antonio Wilcox (814 rushing yds., 14 TDs), and All-SoCon tight end Andy Schumpert (32 rec., 652 yds., 9 TDs).

Blazejowski's heir at the signal calling position may be one player or by committee.  The only quarterback with any game experience is redshirt senior Harris Roberts, who completed 9-of-13 passes for 110 yards a year ago.  The other principals include redshirt freshman JeMar Lincoln and a pair of impressive true freshmen, Darren Grainger and Hamp Sisson.

A renewed commitment to the ground game (225.8 ypg) that netted 36 rushing TDs in 2017, almost double the 16 posted two years ago, paid huge dividends for Paladins, who will look to continue the impressive offensive balance that helped Furman top the SoCon in scoring offense (32.6 ppg) last fall.

Furman also returns the SoCon's leading kick scorer (82 points) in sophomore Grayson Atkins (55x55 PATs, 9x13 FGs), who appears also ready to assume the squad's punting and kickoff duties.

The Paladins play at Elon on Sept. 8 at 6:00 p.m.

Hunter Reid, Sports Information