WHO: Furman (2-3, 1-1 SoCon) at Chattanooga (3-2, 1-1 SoCon)
WHERE: Finley Stadium (21,000), Chattanooga, TN.
WHEN: Oct. 12, 2013, 6:00 p.m.
Series: 43rd meeting/Furman leads 27-15
CHATTANOOGA, TENN.–Coming into the 2013 season, Chattanooga was the considered by many to be the team to beat of the seven teams eligible for the SoCon title in 2013.
Six games into the 2013 season, not much has changed, even though the Mocs have dropped a pair of games they likely feel let slip away.
The Mocs’ lone two setbacks this season have come against both Georgia Southern (23-21) on the road, and a home setback to UT-Martin (31-21) to open the season.
Furman comes into Saturday’s matchup with much the same feeling, having let at least two of their three losses, slip through its proverbial fingertips, including last week’s 28-25 home setback to Elon.
The Paladins’ other two losses came in the non-conference schedule, dropping games to both Gardner-Webb (28-21) and Coastal Carolina (35-28) on the road.
One thing that at least every foe has boasted against the Paladins this season is experience, and they face maybe the biggest disparity in experience on Saturday, facing a Chattanooga team that returned 19 starters coming into the season.
The Mocs have all the pieces to be the team that takes home the Southern Conference title this season–their first since 1984–and also make only the program’s second FCS playoff appearance, with the only other appearance for the Blue and Gold coming in 1986.
Fifth-year head coach Russ Huesman has had the Mocs on the brink of the postseason a couple of times, however, a win against the Paladins on a Homecoming Saturday against the Paladins would allow the Mocs to stay in the Southern Conference race, but a loss to the Paladins would severely damage those hopes of a fifth league title and put a damper on those preseason expectations. Beating Furman in Chattanooga hasn’t exactly been easy for the Mocs over the years, with the Paladins having won nine-straight in the Scenic City and hold a 15-6 all-time edge against the Mocs in Chattanooga.
For the second-straight season, the Paladins will bring a freshman quarterback into the matchup to face the vaunted Mocs defense, with Duncan Fletcher (28-of-41 passing, 316 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT) slated to make just his second start for the Paladins. Fletcher is the reigning Southern Conference Freshman of the Week after connecting on 25-of-38 passes for 255 yards, with a TD and an INT.
Reese Hannon, who is out with an injury, started against the stout Mocs defense last season, and he found the treading tough all afternoon, as the Paladins dropped a 31-10 decision to Chattanooga.
The then true freshman Hannon connected on 19-of-33 throws for 184 yards, but was sacked four times and hit multiple times on a day when the Paladins were held to a season-low 223 yards of total offense.
The Mocs have nearly everyone back from that unit a year ago, including preseason Buck Buchanan Award candidate Davis Tull (18 tackles, 5.0 TFL, 2.0 sacks) at defensive end, while senior linebacker Wes Dothard (31 tackles) also boasts that same preseason acclaim mentioned above.
Both are off to strong starts once again this season, leading a Chattanooga defense that once again ranks atop the league and 19th nationally, yielding just 325.8 YPG. The Mocs have been strongest this season against the pass, ranking first in the SoCon and seventh in the FCS, surrendering just 144.0 YPG through the air.
Fletcher will not be the only challenge to confront the Chattanooga defense on Saturday, as veteran junior running back Hank McCloud (87 rush att, 453 yds, 4 TDs, 5.2 YPC) is having a strong season, while Gary Robinson (22 rec, 341 yds, 2 TDs, 15.5 YPR) has proven to the Paladins top big-play threat in the passing attack, posting a career-high 133 yards on eight catches in Furman’s impressive 24-17 road win at The Citadel a couple of weeks ago.
Furman also counters with what might be the best offensive line in the SoCon, and is at least one of the most experienced, returning all five starters from last season’s unit. Leading the Paladins up front is left tackle Dakota Dozier, who has started 35 of the 36 games he has played in during his Paladin career.
Offensively, the Mocs seem to be a much better unit than the one that faced the Paladins last season, and it all starts with dual threat quarterback Jacob Huesman (68-of-107 passing, 767 yds, 11 TDs, 3 INTs / 77 rush att, 411 yds, 4 TDs, 5.3 YPC). Huesman’s 914 rushing yards last season were the most by a quarterback in school history last season.
He heads up a Chattanooga ground attack that comes into Saturday night’s clash ranking 10th nationally (252.2 YPG), with Keon Williams (69 rush att, 468 yds, 6 TDs, 6.8 YPC) and Marquis Green (25 rush att, 94 yds, 1 TD, 3.8 YPC) also having proven to be key components of that ground attack through the first five games of the 2013 season.
Williams and Green have also shown the ability to catch the football coming out of the backfield, with Green ranking second on the team in receiving, having caught 13 passes for 182 yards and three TDs so far in 2013, while Williams hauled in a short screen pass and scampered 57 yards for a score in the Mocs’ 23-21 loss at Georgia Southern. Williams and Huesman will be looking to become the first 1,000-yard rusher for the first time since Eldra Buckley crossed the 1,000-yard plateau in 2006.That could change this season, with Williams and Huesman standing a good chance to challenge the 1,000-yard plateau.
The options in the passing game are also solid, and it starts with tight end Faysal Shafaat (11 rec, 142 yds, 4 TDs, 12.9 YPR), who is as much of a threat in the passing game for the Mocs as Colin Anderson was last year. Shafaat may well be the best receiving tight end in the nation. Shafaat is a preseason All-SoCon selection and he has seemingly made plenty of clutch catches throughout his career for the Blue and Gold.
Terrell Robinson (15 rec, 117 yds, 1 TD, 7.8 YPR), C.J. Board (9 rec, 78 yds, 8.7 YPR) and Tommy Hudson (10 rec, 117 yds, 1 TD, 11.7 YPR) will start at the respective receiver positions on Saturday.
One of the surprises for the Paladins this season has been the play of its defense, which ranks second in the SoCon (343.3 YPG), and rank 35th in the nation. One of
the players responsible for leading that Paladin defensive unit this season has been Chattanooga native T.J.Warren (16 tackles, 4.0 TFL, 1.0 sack), who will once again be a key component of that young Furman defense. Cory Magwood (35 tackles, 1.0 TFL, 1 FF) and Carl Rider are also part of what has been such a surprising Furman defense this season.
The Paladins have been especially good against the run this season, holding foes to just 139.4 YPG on the ground this season, which leads the Southern Conference.
Furman’s defensive line coach Jimmy Lindsey, which once played and coached at Chattanooga, has fashioned a pretty good defensive front for the Paladins, although he has had to deal to with some injuries along the defensive front this season, which includes a season-ending injury to senior bookend Shawn Boone.
Leading that defensive front this season has been preseason All-SoCon defensive end Gary Wilkins (19 tackles, 5.0 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 1 FF), who has done well since making the transition from linebacker, where he led the Paladins in tackles (92 stops) in 2012.
Furman’s starting safeties–Greg Worthy (47 tackles, 1.0 TFL, 2 FFs) and Marcus McMorris (30 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 1 INT, 2 PBUs)–are among the best in the SoCon and might be the best the Mocs will face this season. Both are extremely physical and do a nice job of coming up and making plays against the run.
Saturday night’s battle between the Mocs and Paladins should be a physical one, with two of the league’s and nation’s top defenses on display. Saturday’s game should be another Southern Conference battle that comes down to the fourth quarter in a season where there is no dominant team in the league.