PREVIEWING 2014 (The Offense):
GREENVILLE, S.C.–The Furman offense seemed to get better as the season progressed in 2013, and finished the 2013 season averaging 22.7 PPG and averaged 318.3 YPG last season, posting 147.9 YPG on the ground, while averaging 170.4 YPG in passing yards.
The Paladins’ opportunistic defense, which posted one of the nation’s top turnover margins, oftentimes gave the Paladins a short field, leading to some lower statistical totals for the offense to end the season.
Head coach Bruce Fowler welcomes the return of 17 starters from that team that won eight games last season, including veteran quarterback Reese Hannon (153-of-254 passing, 1,748 yards, 7 TDs, 5 INTs), who will enter camp and 2014 embarking on his third season as the Paladins’ starting signal-caller. Hannon battled injuries early on in the campaign, but rebounded to make the important all the important throws in the Paladins’ stretch run in the Southern Conference race last season.
Hannon will be one of the veteran leaders for a Furman offense that welcomes the return of nine starters this fall. One of the things that has made Hannon so valuable over the past two seasons is his ability to mesh with the Paladins’ ‘wildcat’ quarterback, which the Paladins have run with some effectiveness each Fowler’s previous three seasons at the helm of the Paladins.
The two ‘wildcat’ signal-callers that would see action for the Paladins last season were Terry Robinson (101 rush yds, 4 TDs, 4.4 YPC) and Greensboro, N.C. product Richard Hayes III (302 rush yards, 2 TDs, 5.3 YPC/2-of-4 passing, 16 yds). Both Robinson and Hayes were outstanding in their respective roles as ’wildcat’ quarterbacks last season as a vital part of the Paladin offense, and once again this season, the duo will be just as important.
Hayes III, a converted defensive back, might make the move back to the defensive side of the football, competing for a job at corner after the graduation of Austin Williams, but there’s also an excellent chance that he might be used on both sides of the football this season, as he was so effective in his role as the Paladins’ ’wildcat’ quarterback over the final eight games.
He was forced into action after Robinson went down with a season-ending knee injury in the loss to Elon. He produced one of the best rushing performances in the history of Furman football in the regular-season finale against Western Carolina, as Hayes III ran for a career-best 144 yards and a crucial 60-yard scoring run late in the third quarter, extending a two-point Paladin advantage to nine points, at 26-17. The 144 rushing yards by Hayes III accounted for the second-highest rushing total in a single game in Furman football history. Two of Hayes’ carries accounted for 114 of his 144 yards in the win over the Catamounts for the second-highest rushing total in a single game in Furman football history. Two of Hayes’ carries accounted for 114 of his 144 yards in the win over the Catamounts.
Robinson, who saw the primary action as the Paladins’ ‘wildcat’ quarterback in the first six games of the season until suffering a season ending knee injury in a 28-25 Southern Conference home loss to Elon. The week prior to the season-ending injury, Robinson had his best game as a Paladin against The Citadel. He finished that contest rushing for 46 yards and a pair of crucial TDs, helping the Paladins post what was a 24-17 upset road win at The Citadel.
The fifth and final quarterback that saw action under center for the Paladins in 2014 was Duncan Fletcher (36-of-58, 378 yds, 1 TD, 2 INTs), who came into rescue the Paladins in the road win at The Citadel, and was one of three quarterbacks to see action in the game against the Bulldogs. Fletcher’s performance against the Bulldogs, and the freshman walk-on quarterback was big in the Paladins’ win over the Bulldogs, becoming a steadying presence on the offensive side of the football for the Paladins. His first pass of the game was a 43-yard completion to Robinson, which set up the game-winning score for the Paladins. In total, Fletcher finished the contest connecting on all three of his passes for 61 yards.
The walk-on would start the next game against Elon, and though the Paladins fell behind by a 28-10 at the break, but the brazen and brash young Paladin quarterback was able to lead the Paladins on a furious second-half rally, with the Paladins falling just short in a 28-25 setback to in the Paladins’ Southern Conference home opener. For Fletcher, he was able to connect on 25-of-38 passes for 255 yards, with a TD and an INT.
Fletcher would start his third and final game of the season for the Paladins against Chanttanooga, but the young quarterback would end up struggling against one of the top defenses in the Southern Conference, finishing that contest connecting on just 8-of-17 passes for 62 yards, with an INT. Fletcher was sacked six times in the contest.
One of the areas that needed improvement coming into the season was wide receiver, which failed to produce the types of big plays the Paladins lacked in 2012. That, however, would not be the case from the outset this season, as Gary Robisnon’s 70-yard scoring reception in the season opener against Gardner-Webb. Robinson would see his season come to a premature ending against Appalachian State, suffering a broken leg early in the contest. Robinson should be back to full strength this fall and will be one of the top options in the Paladins’ passing attack next season. Robinson enjoyed his best game of his career against The Citadel, hauling in eight passes for a career-best 133 yards.
The player that will be missed most from the Paladin passing attack next season is Ryan Culbreath, who finished his senior season hauling in 39 passes for 515 yards and had a team-leading four TD catches. Culbreath caused matched problems with his 6-4 frame, and had a huge TD reception late in the half in Furman’s opening playoff win over South Carolina State. Culbreath was the starting split end for the past two seasons for the Paladins.
Furman must also find a replacement at tight end for a second-straight season, as Cameron Mason has graduated. Mason wasn’t the downfield threat that his predecessor Colin Anderson was, but he did offer Furman leadership, run-blocking and a clutch downfield option when called upon to do so, and finished the season with 10 catches for 100 yards.
One of the biggest surprises at receiver down the stretch last season was the performance of Andrej Suttles (50 rec, 697 yds, 3 TDs, 13.9 YPR), as the redshirt freshman made the most of his opportunity after Robinson went down with an injury. Suttles set Furman freshman receiving records for receptions (50) and receiving yards (697), and would become the Paladins primary, go-to-receiver down the stretch in the 2013 season. Suttles’ first huge play for the Paladin offense came against The Citadel, as his 36-yard reception on a long pass from Hannon helped set up a Paladin TD just before the half.
Against Georgia Southern, Suttles would haul in a 75-yard halfback-option pass from running back Tanner Skogen (40 att., 206 yds., 2 TDs) on the first play from scrimmage, giving the Paladins an early 7-0 lead in Statesboro, in a game they would go on to win, 16-14.
Suttles also exemplified his tremendous speed to the home faithful the following week in must-win game against Samford, taking a short pass from Hannon and took it 85 yards for one of the longest scoring plays in the history of Paladin Stadium. Suttles would also haul in a TD pass in the Paladins’ final home game against Wofford, as he hauled in a 21-yard scoring catch in the 27-13 win over the Terriers last season
Suttles has the kind of natural speed that make him a weapon in a variety of different ways this fall for the Paladins. Like Paladins of the past, such as Des Kitchings or Adam Mims, a receiver with his type speed allows for him to be able to touch the ball in a variety of different ways for the Paladins.
A receiver that will play a key role in the rotation this fall for Furman will be Jordan Snellings (30 rec, 302 yds, 1 TD, 10.1 YPR), who started the 2013 season with an injury. Snellings really started to come on as a receiver for the Paladins as the season progressed, and he could be poised for a big junior season. Snellings enjoyed his best game of the season in a late-season, homecoming win over Samford. He hauled in two passes for 53 yards and a TD. He also had six grabs for 44 yards in the regular-season finale at Western Carolina.
Another significant option for the Paladins heading into the spring will be a couple of players expected to see significant action at the tight end position this fall with the graduation of Mason. Both David Dingess (9 rec, 100 yds, 11.1 YPR) and Gibson Klapthor will be the primary competitors for the starting job at the tight end position this fall for the Paladins.
Dingess was impressive, both as a blocker, as well as his ability to make the clutch catch last season, and that was as a redshirt sophomore. The 6-5, 208-pound native of Nashville, Tenn., probably reminds Paladin fans a lot of former All-American tight end Colin Anderson with his size and athleticism.
He was also able to get downfield and make several key blocks in the open field last season for the Paladins, with one of those blocks coming to mind being the one that was able to spring Suttles for his long 85-yard TD against Samford.
Klapthor did not make a reception for the Paladins last season, but did do well as a blocker in his action as a reserve tight end this season. Klapthor has a chance to challenge for a starting position in the spring, and it will be one of the more heated positional battles to watch throughout the spring and into fall camp. Klapthor brings a physical edge and more a blocking presence to the Furman offense, maybe a little more than Dingess, but it should be a great battle to watch this spring.
Since Bruce Fowler returned as the head coach to the Furman football program in December of 2010, the Paladins have re-dedicated themselves to being a team that establishes a physical ground attack, and that’s exactly what Furman has done, producing a 1,000-yard rusher each of the past three seasons.
There were plenty of question marks entering the 2013 season, however, as the Paladins had to replace their fifth all-time leading rusher, in Jerodis Williams, who finished fifth on the school’s all-time rushing ledger. But, the good news was that the Paladins had a very capable stable of running backs returning for the 2013 season, led by junior Hank McCloud (215 rush att, 1,092 yds, 5 TDs, 5.1 YPC).
McCloud not only proved to be a capable running threat for the Paladin offense last season, but also a capable receiving threat coming out of the backfield. McCloud caught 19 passes for 134 yards and a TD, averaging 5.1 YPC.
He was also effective as a kick-return threat, completing the season with 536 return yards on 23 returns, averaging 23.3 yards-per-return. He averaged 125.9 all-purpose yards per game last season, ranking fifth in the SoCon.
McCloud had several strong rushing performances last season, eclipsing the century mark four times last fall for the Paladins. In fact, McCloud accounted for four of the six 100-yard rushing performances for the Paladins last season.
The top performance on the ground for McCloud came against Coastal Carolina, as the Tampa, FL., native rushed for 133 yards and a TD. His 1,092 rushing yards ended up ranking second to only Appalachian State’s Marcus Cox last season, who rushed for 1,250 yards. For his career, McCloud comes into the 2013 season having posted 1,854 career rushing yards to go along with 12 TDs.
McCloud won’t be alone in the backfield this fall, with Tanner Skogen (40 rush att, 206 yds, 2 TDs, 5.2 YPC) also returning to the backfield for the Paladins, and it was Skogen that made some huge plays for the Paladins in a variety of different ways last season, including even throwing a pair TD passes for the Paladins this past season, which came against Georgia Southern and Samford in back-to-back weeks.
Skogen enjoyed his best day as a Paladin in the opening round playing game against South Carolina State, posting a 116-yard rushing performance on 13 rushes, averaging 8.9 YPR.
He produced a career-long 53-yard jaunt in the win over the Bulldogs. Skogen flashed his big arm in late season wins against Georgia Southern and Samford, tossing a 75-yard TD to Andrej Suttles on the opening play of the game against Georgia Southern, while taking a handoff from Hannon and tossing a 46-yard bomb to Jordan Snellings in the homecoming win over Samford. Skogen’s biggest run might have been his 13-yard scamper on the road at The Citadel, which proved to be the game-winning score for the Paladins.
Without having the services of Marcus Anderson, who has transferred out of the program, the Paladins are going to look to both McCloud and Skogen more than ever now, and it also opens the door for perhaps a younger player to get reps at running back this fall.
While the fullback position has seemingly gone out of style at most schools, Furman has kept the position a key element of his offense over the past few years, as it has become a dying breed at other schools.
The Paladins’ starting fullback heading into the spring will once again be Ernie Cain (24 rec., 89 yds., 2 TDs), who has proven to be a tremendous lead-blocker in the Paladin backfield over the previous two years. Cain has been a key compliment to McCloud and Skogen in the backfield, and though he doesn’t see many carries, he is a solid part of this Paladin ground and also catches the ball well coming out of the backfield for the Paladins.
If there are some questions on the offensive side of the ball heading into the 2014 season, it’s the offensive line, which loses a pair of players with starting experience heading into the 2014 season, including maybe the top offensive lineman to ever play for the Paladins, in left tackle Dakota Dozier, expected to go in the first four rounds of the upcoming NFL Draft. Also lost to graduation is right guard Ryan Storms, who started 24-career games in his career, but missed the first nine games of the 2013 season with a leg injury.
Assuming the starting role at left tackle, with the unenviable task of trying to fill the rather large shoes left by Dozier in 2014 will likely be junior Joe Turner. Turner is athletic and has good feet, having started 22 games, including garnering SoCon All-Freshman honors in 2012, as he enters his junior season in 2014.
Right tackle will be an assignment that belongs to veteran Charles Emert, who likely heads into the season as an All-Southern Conference candidate. Emert has more than exhibited versatility throughout his Paladin career, and is a veteran of 34 games, including 30 starts, entering his final campaign in the Purple and White. Emert has been particularly valuable in his career when Furman has encountered injury issues along the offensive line in his career, starting games at both tackle positions, center and left guard during his Paladin career. Emert was a SoCon All-Freshman performer in 2011.
Set to occupy both respective offensive guard positions heading into the 2014 campaign will be both Tank Phillips and Charlie Anderson. Phillips was a starter last season until suffering a broken leg against Western Carolina, and he will miss spring practice. Phillips was a big, powerful presence along the offensive front for Furman last season and should he be healthy, and has been apart of a Furman offense that has produced 1,000-yard ground attacks each of the past three seasons. Anderson didn’t see much game action last season, and the redshirt junior will enter the campaign as a prime candidate to start at offensive guard this fall.
Rounding out the starters along the Paladin offensive front this fall will be center Eric Thoni, who has started all 20 games he has been apart of during his Furman career. Thoni was a SoCon All-Freshman selection and a College Sports Journal All-American in his freshman season a couple of years ago. Thoni was forced to miss the early portion of the 2013 season for disciplinary reasons, but he recovered to have a strong season following that suspension, including recording a 94% grade in the huge Homecoming win over Samford.
Furman’s offensive front will be strengthened by solid depth this fall, which will include the likes of Harrison Monk (OT), Harrison Magee (OT) and Justin Floyd (OT), who are all excellent young, talented compliments along the offensive line, who are expected to be significant contributors this fall.
Furman should have a balanced offense once again this fall, and one of the differences last season was red zone efficiency, which was among the best in the nation last season. Obviously, placekicker Ray Early had a lot to do with that last season, and developing that position will also be a big key this spring.
Stay tuned for spring previews of the Furman defense and special teams in the coming day, as SaturdayBlitz covers spring football around the Southern Conference.