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Furman Looks To Extend Late Season Surge Saturday At VMI

Jordan Willis

GREENVILLE, S.C. -- Winners of four of its last five games, Furman will look to extend its late season surge this Saturday when it travels to Lexington, Va., to take on the Keydets in a 1:30 p.m. contest at Alumni Memorial Field.

The game will be live streamed via ESPN+ and radio broadcast on the IMG/Furman Sports Network via 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.  Paladin fans in attendance can enjoy the broadcast via in-stadium transmitter on a frequency to be announced via twitter @PaladinFootball on Saturday.

Links to live stats are available thru FurmanPaladins.com.

A win over VMI would keep Furman (4-4, 4-2 SoCon) in the Southern Conference title chase.  The Paladins are currently tied for third in the standings with Samford (5-4, 4-2 SoCon), a half game back of second place Wofford (6-3, 5-2 SoCon).  East Tennessee State (8-2, 6-1 SoCon) is all alone in first place with only a Nov. 17 home contest versus Samford remaining on the Buccaneers' schedule.  A Furman win over VMI and triumph over Mercer on Nov. 17 in the Paladins' regular season finale, coupled with a Samford victory over ETSU would give the Paladins a share of the SoCon title.

Before entertaining any title thoughts, however, Paladin head coach Clay Hendrix's squad must conquer VMI (1-8, 0-7 SoCon), and that will be a challenge despite the Keydets' overall record, which includes a 20-11 win over Tusculum last week.  VMI, despite its record, has had several close calls, including a 27-24 setback to league frontunner ETSU, a 34-32 loss to The Citadel, and a 52-50 loss at Western Carolina — all contests that could have easily gone the Keydets' way.

VMI, like Samford, Western Carolina, and Chattanooga, likes to operate primarily through the air, averaging an impressive 321.9 passing yards per game behind the arm of sophomore Reece Udinksi, who has thrown for 19 touchdowns this fall.

The Keydets' struggles have primarily been on defense as they enter Saturday's fracas yielding 44.9 points and exactly 500.0 yards per game.

Looking to take advantage will be a Paladin offense that has yet to have a true breakout game other than a 44-point effort in a win over Western Carolina in late September.  Redshirt senior quarterback Harris Roberts, who returned to the starting fold in last week's 16-10 win over Chattanooga, will look to amp up the attack, and set to assist him in a cadre of running backs led by sophomore Devin Wynn, who has run for 402 yards and averaged 7.88 yard per carry over the last five games.  Roberts' favorite receiver is junior Thomas Gordon (21 rec., 332 yds., TD), who two years ago recorded a career long 83-yard touchdown reception at VMI.

While the Keydets' ability to work the air channels will keep Furman's defense on their toes, if Udkinski & Co. don't account for Paladin redshirt freshman bandit Adrian Hope on every play, they could pay a hefty price.  Ranked second among FCS pass rushers with 10.5 sacks, Hope, one of the nation's top young defenders, has proven ability to get to opposing quarterbacks, which he did with big results two weeks ago against The Citadel, recording a late sack and forced fumble that was scooped up and returned for a game clinching touchdown to seal the 28-17 Paladin victory.  In last week's win over over Chattanooga, the Ocala, Fla., product registered 2.5 sacks to help key a Furman defense that smothered UTC, allowing only 240 total yards.

Furman's improving linebacking corps, composed of sophomore Elijah McKoy (74 tackles) and Donavan Perryman (63 tackles) promises to be active against the Keydets, as does junior spur Jordan Willis (61 tackles).

Paladin head coach Clay Hendrix hopes Furman's improved red zone efficiency that has produced scores on 18 of the Paladins' last 19 forays inside the opposition's 20-yard line, will net touchdowns, but if not, he has the luxury of counting on the SoCon's top kicker in Grayson Atkins, the league's three-time defending specialist of the week who has made 10 consecutive field goals, including four from 50+ yards.  Atkins, a rare true triple threat specialist, averages 43.1 yards per punt and has put half of his 40 kickoffs out of the end zone.

Furman, which owns a 26-9 lead in its series with VMI, has won 24 of the last 25 meetings with the Keydets, with the lone setback coming in Lexington in 2014.

Hunter Reid, Sports Information