GREENVILLE, S.C.–With the spring game just ahead this weekend for Furman football, it’s time to take a look at each opponent the Paladins will face for the upcoming season. The Paladins will play a 12-game slate for the first time since the 2008 season, when the Paladins finished 7-5. The following is the first of 12 opponent sketches, as we look ahead to the 2013 campaign.
The season opening matchup for the Paladins will certainly have an interesting backdrop, as the Gardner-Webb Bulldogs recently named a football coach with strong ties to Furman.
Newly hired coach Caroll McCray spent three years under former Furman head coach Bobby Lamb, coaching the Paladins’ offensive line from 2007-10.
McCray then followed Lamb to Macon, Ga., seemingly to be the offensive coordinator of the first Mercer football team in 72 years, but an even better opportunity came about when McCray was asked to take the reins of the Division II North Greenville football program after the departure of Jamey Chadwell. In his only season as a head coach, the well-respected McCray led the Crusaders to a 5-6 final record.
Now, he returns to his alma mater. McCray won’t be the first coach to take over at Gardner-Webb with Furman ties. Some may recall Steve Patton as the head coach of the Bulldogs the last time they met the Paladins back in 2005.
Furman also has a coach on its staff with ties to the Gardner-Webb football program in defensive coordinator John Windham, who spent four seasons in Boiling Springs, N.C. to help the Bulldogs lead the Big South in total defense during 2007 and 2010.
The 2013 meeting marks just the fourth between the two programs all-time. Furman won each of the three previous, including 48-31 in their last match-up.
That 2005 meeting featured the Paladins rolling up 610 yards of total offense en route to the win, as Furman signal-caller Ingle Martin passed for 247 yards and rushed for an 80-yard touchdown to lead the seventh ranked Paladins to the 17-point win.
Despite tossing five INTs in the 2004 meeting between the two teams, Martin and eighth ranked Furman managed to post a 38-6 win over Gardner-Webb in the Paladins’ only trip to Spangler Stadium in Boiling Springs.
GARDNER-WEBB TRADITION: Gardner-Webb joined the FCS — then referred to as Division I-AA — ranks in 2000 after enjoying successful runs in Division II and NAIA. As an NAIA member in 1992 and under the direction of Woody Fish, the Bulldogs made it all the way to the national championship game. There, the Bulldogs dropped a heartbreaking decision to Central State, 19-16.
In NCAA Division I, Gardner-Webb played as an independent in 2000 and 2001 before joining the Big South Conference. With only four teams in the Big South’s inaugural football season, Gardner-Webb took the conference title with a 9-1 record and a perfect 3-0 league mark. The Bulldogs’ only loss was an early season setback to eventual Southern Conference champion Georgia Southern.
In 2003, Gardner-Webb repeated as Big South champions. However, with only five teams and still in its four-year transitional process to Division I, Gardner-Webb was once again ineligible for the FCS postseason.
The Bulldogs nearly sent shockwaves through the college football world back in 2008, losing a 10-7 contest to ACC member Georgia Tech. Gardner-Webb claimed its first win over an FBS team in 2010 when it defeated Akron, 38-37 in overtime.
McCray’s aim in his first season is to lead the Bulldogs to their first winning season since finishing 6-5 in 2009.
2013 Gardner-Webb Opponent Sketch:
Furman’s first opponent in the 2013 season will be a challenging one, as the Paladins take their first trip to Boiling Springs, N.C., and Gardner-Webb for the first time since 2004 .
The Paladins will face a Gardner-Webb club that returns 17 starters (8-offense, 9-defense) for the 2013 season, and a team that find itself in conversations to challenge for a Big South title in 2013.
It will be a high-octane, pass-oriented offense the Paladins will likely face when they line up against the Bulldogs on Aug. 31, with veteran quarterback Lucas Beatty (215-of-334 passing, 2,483 yards, 12 TDs and 13 INTs).
Beatty leads a Gardner-Webb offense that averaged 20.5 PPG and 336.2 YPG, fourth in the Big South in both scoring and total offense last season. Gardner-Webb finished second behind only league leader Coastal Carolina in pass offense last season, averaging 228.5 YPG.
Beatty has plenty of weapons returning to throw to, with Kenny Cook (48 rec, 666 yards, 7 TD), Deonte Swinton (41 rec, 467 yards) and Seth Cranfill (37 rec, 366 yards, 2 TD). Cook finished fourth in the Big South in both receptions and receiving yards last season, while finishing third in touchdown receptions.
Gardner-Webb’s leading rusher, Kenny Little, graduated after completing the 2012 season rushing for 762 yards and seven scores to rank fifth in the Big South.
Leading the running game this fall is Juanne Blount (572 rush yards, 6 TD), who split carries with Little in that featured rusher role.
The offensive line is perhaps the biggest concern for the Gardner-Webb offense heading into the 2013 season, with the unit returning just two starters from a year ago: left tackle David McConnell and right guard Dylan Hopper.
One of the top players of the returnees on the defensive side of the ball is bookend Maurice Dickson (28 tackles, 8.5 TFL, 5.5 sacks, 1 FF), who garnered All Big South honors last season in his defensive end role. The new staff has decided to move the athletic Dickson from defensive end to inside linebacker.
Dickson leads a Gardner-Webb defense that struggled, but was for the most part young. GWU yielded 430.2 YPG and 35.5 PPG a season ago.
Dickson is joined at linebacker by returning starters Tanner Burch (113 tackles, 7.5 TFL, 2.0 sacks, 2 FRs) and Bradley Taylor (53 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 1 FR), who add experience to form a strong trio for Bulldog defensive coordinator Randall McCray to build his new 3-4 defensive scheme around. Burch’s 113 stops in 11 games last season equated to 12.6 tackles per game, which led the Big South in 2012.
Defensive end Preston Pemasa (43 tackles, 7.0 TFL, 1.5 sacks) and defensive tackle Matt Goods (41 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 1.0 sack) return to anchor the defensive line with Dickson’s move to linebacker. Both Goods and Pemasa are good athletes and were able to get solid pressure on opposing quarterbacks last season.
The Gardner-Webb secondary returns four players with starting experience at cornerback, with Keon Williams (14 tackles) and Drew White (33 tackles, 1.0 TFL, 1 INT, 4 PBUs) likely to start the season as the experienced starters at the respective corner positions, while Lonnie Johnson (40 tackles, 6.0 TFL, 2.0 sacks) is the most experienced returning safety.
Like Furman, Gardner-Webb was an extremely young football team last season, finishing with an identical 3-8 record. The Bulldogs faced similar opponents to Furman in SoCon members Wofford (L, 34-7) and Samford (L, 44-23), losing both of those games by substantial margins in front of the home crowd.
Gardner-Webb is not an opponent the Paladins can take lightly like they might have been able to get away with back in ’04 and ’05, especially since Furman is rebuilding from its own disappointing season.