Furman vs. Samford: Bulldogs Looking To Save Season With Homecoming Matchup


Gary Wilkins Anchors a Paladin Defensive Line That Has Helped The Paladins To A League-Leading 18 Sacks Through The First Seven Games in 2014.

Furman-Samford Preview

GREENVILLE, S.C.–Furman’s bid to remain in contention for the playoff and Southern Conference title race begins again this weekend when the Paladins host the Samford Bulldogs on homecoming for the second-straight season.

In this version of Furman vs. Samford, the Bulldogs enter the game looking to put an end to a five-game losing streak, which started back on Sept. 13, with a 10-7 loss at PC and continued last Saturday with a 41-10 setback to South Carolina this past Saturday in Columbia.

Samford comes in with a 3-3 mark, including a 2-2 mark in Southern Conference play. The Bulldogs have recorded wins over Stillman (52-0), VMI (63-21) and Mercer (21-18) and losses have come against losses have come against Chattanooga (38-24), TCU (48-14) and Wofford (24-0).

The Bulldogs were the Southern Conference tri-champions last season along with Furman and Chattanooga, using dramatic wins over Chattanooga (17-14) and out-going Elon (32-28) to claim a share of the Southern Conference crown last season. It was Samford’s first playoff appearance since 1992, and was the program’s first conference title as a Division I member.

The Bulldogs lost a great deal of talent off the offensive side of the ball from a year ago, including Fabian Truss, as well as SoCon Offensive Player of the Year Andy Summerlin at quarterback.

What the Bulldogs do have back is a solid defense, which includes Jaquiski Tartt, who presides over a Samford defense that comes in ranking second in the Southern Conference (312.2 YPG), and Tartt is quite possibly the best defensive back in the league.

The Bulldogs acquired some high-profile transfers, including Michael Eubank, who transferred into Samford from Arizona State. Furman has run the ball well the past two weeks in games against Coastal Carolina and South Carolina, amassing a combined total of 487 yards in those games. In the first five games running the football, the Paladins mustered a mere 19 more yards (506 rush yds in first five games.

Furman has run the ball well the past two weeks in games against Coastal Carolina and South Carolina, amassing a combined total of 487 yards in those games. In the first five games running the football, the Paladins mustered a mere 19 more yards (506 rush yds in first five games).

Samford Tradition:

Samford has a great tradition of football among several schools in the football-rich state of Alabama, and one of the coaching legends got his start at Samford, which was formerly known as Howard College prior to the 1950s.

The first season of football at Howard College was in 1902, and the Bulldogs with one of their best early seasons in 1906, completing the campaign with a 6-2-1 record, with the only losses coming to current SEC West members Alabama and Mississippi State.

The early years saw the Bulldogs’ biggest rival on the gridiron be Birmingham Southern College, with the annual game being held on Thanksgiving Day.One of the more memorable moments in the pre-war years came in 1935, when the Bulldogs forged a 7-7 tie with defending Rose Bowl Champion Alabama.

In 1959, Bobby Bowden would start his legendary coaching career at Samford, re-introducing scholarship football for the first time 18 years. Bowden had the midas touch from the outset, posting a 9-1 record in his first season as the head coach, and in his four seasons as the head coach of the Bulldogs, he has the best winning percentage of any coach in Samford football history, having won 83.8% of his games, posting a 31-6 overall mark.

Terry Bowden would also cut his teeth as the head coach of the Samford Bulldogs, spending six seasons in Birmingham and leading Samford to a pair of Division I-AA playoff berths.

Overview of the Rivalry:

Furman and Samford face off in what amounts to a huge Southern Conference clash Saturday at Paladin Stadium. With Samford already behind the eight-ball with a pair of Southern Conference losses, the game amounts to a “must-win” for the Bulldogs Saturday afternoon when they visit Paladin Stadium.

Samford and Furman have had some close battles since the Bulldogs joined the Southern Conference back in 2008.

The first four meetings between the Paladins and Bulldogs were decided by about a touchdown average, with three of the four clashes being decided by a combined eight points, including just three points in two of those matchups.

The Bulldogs are a team that in the past has been dangerous offensively, due in large part to some excellent play-callers over the years, including the likes of Rhett Lashlee, who is now the offensive coordinator at Auburn.

Samford obviously came into the 2014 season as one of the favorites to claim a Southern Conference crown, and the Bulldogs have a great tradition.

The Bulldogs come into the contest with one of the younger offenses in the Southern Conference, but have gotten good production out of some of those younger players, particularly players like Denzel Williams, who has been one of the better young running backs in the SoCon to this point in the 2014 season.

Pat Sullivan, a former Heisman Trophy winning quarterback at Auburn back in 1971, is in his eighth season at the helm in Birmingham, compiling a 43-42 record as the head coach of Bulldogs.

Previewing The Matchup:

While Samford has had seen a young offense go through its share of growing pains this season, with perhaps more inconsistencies in any one season since 2010, the Samford defense has been a veteran unit that has buoyed head coach Pat Sullivans squad early on this season, which is not too much unlike Bruce Fowler’s Paladins, with the exception of Furman’s offensive struggles stemming from an injury to starting signal-caller Reese Hannon.

It’s been a rivalry that has gotten the reputation as one of the top budding rivalries in the Southern Conference, with four out of the six meetings since the Bulldogs joined the Southern Conference in 2009 having been decided by five points or less. The average score in average score in six meetings between the two as SoCon members has been 25-21 in favor of the Paladins.

From 2008-11, the recent trend in a rivalry, which saw its first of 16 meetings in 19, was likely during this four-year span, with three of the four matchups coming right down to the wire.

In 2008 and ‘09, Furman defensive lineman Kyle McKinney would forever etch his name in the rivalry between the two private institutions by recording a blocked PAT in ‘08 to preserve a 28-27 win in Birmingham.

In an eerily similar fashion a year later in Greenville, McKinney blocked what would have been a potential game-winning 39-yard field goal by All-SoCon place-kicker Cameron Yaw to preserve a 26-24 win, after the Paladins nearly squandered a 16-point (26-10) fourth quarter lead.

After Furman won a 27-10 contest in 2010, the Bulldogs would breakthrough and claim their first win against the Paladins since 1969 in 2011, with the Dustin Taliaferro leading the Bulldogs to a 26-21 win in Paladin Stadium.

In the 2011 loss, it would turn out to be a record-setting day for senior quarterback Chris Forcier, who would tie the school record for all-time passing yards (356 yds).

The 2012 season would see Furman open with a road Southern Conference game for the first time since 1975, and for the second-straight season, the Paladins would drop a heartbreaker to the Bulldogs, with a 24-21 setback at Seibert Stadium.

In just his fourth start as the Furman quarterback, Dakota Derrick would struggle, tossing three picks, but running back Jerodis Williams kept the Paladins in it with a solid 100 yards and a TD, and a

Saturday afternoon sees a Samford team invade Paladin Stadium that has gotten more comfortable with each passing week, however, last Saturday, the Bulldogs struggled to run the football, gaining a season-low 49 yards on the ground in last Saturday’s loss to Wofford.

Offensively, the Bulldogs come to Greenville ranking 63rd nationally in total offense (376.7 YPG), 29th in scoring offense (32.0 PPG), 78th in passing offense (225.8 YPG) and 49th in rushing offense (183.8 YPG).

The Bulldogs come in putting up some solid totals on the defensive side of the football so far this season, with a large majority of the experience on the team’s roster residing on the defensive side of the ball. The Bulldogs come into Saturday afternoon’s homecoming clash at Furman, ranking 15th nationally in total defense (312.2 YPG), 55th in scoring defense (24.8 PPG), 63rd in rushing defense (174.5 YPG), and sixth in passing defense (137.7 YPG).

When Samford and Furman renew their rivalry on Saturday afternoon, it will mark the 17th meeting between the two, with Furman holding a 9-7 all-time series edge, with the Paladins having eight of the past 10 meetings between the two, with the first meeting between the two rivals occurring in 1961. Furman holds a 5-4 all-time series edge in Greenville.

The Paladins are 25-8 all-time in homecoming games played at their current home of Paladin Stadium. Four of the five losses for the Paladins have come to teams from the Palmetto State this season.

The Bulldogs are an even 26-26 against Southern Conference foes since joining the league back in 2008. Samford is 25-22-1 all-time against teams from the Palmetto State.

A Look At The Samford Offense:

Samford came into the 2014 season with plenty of new blood on the offensive side of the ball, losing six starters, including a quarterback who passed for 3,640 yards and a player who garnered SoCon Media Association Player of the Year Andy Summerlin, the school’s all-time leading receiver (Kelsey Pope; 250 rec, 2,345 yds and 13 TDs), and the SoCon’s career third all-time leader in all-purpose yards (Fabian Truss, 6,640 yds).

The good news entering the 2014 season for the Bulldogs was the newcomers would be fashioned around an offensive line that returned four regulars, which played an integral role in helping the Bulldogs to their first Southern Conference title in 2013. The Bulldogs also welcomed the return of one of the top receivers in the league from a year ago.

One of the solid aspects of this Samford offense this season is the fact that it has Travis Trickett–son of Florida State offensive line coach Travis Trickett. Trickett is an innovative play-caller much like his predecessor, Rhett Lashlee.

The Bulldog offense showed they could score points in bunches already once this season, rudely greeting VMI in its first Southern Conference game since 2002, with a 63-21 win over he Keydets. The 63 scored by the Bulldogs eclipsed the Division I school-record of 62 scored against Western Carolina in the 2013 league opener.

The Bulldogs rolled up one of the best offensive afternoons in the Division era in total offense as well, as Samford rolled up 525 yards total offense, with 433 yards on the ground. The game also two Bulldogs rush for better than 100 yards, in Denzel Williams (178 yds) and Krondis Larry (128 yds).

One of the more impressive aspects of the Samford offense this season has been its effectiveness in the red zone, tied for third in the Southern Conference in red zone offense this season, including ranking second in league games. The Bulldogs have converted 87% (20-of-23) of their red zone trips this season.

Most folks that follow the school of 4,833 based in Birmingham were anxious to see how the quarterback position was going to pan out in 2014, and like Summerlin, it would be an FBS transfer positioned as the starter with two years of eligibility remaining.

NFL prototype Michael Eubank (106-of-163 passing, 1,071 yds, 5 TDs, 6 INTs) transferred into Samford from Arizona State in the early spring, and the 6-6, 246-lb native of Corona, CA. Eubank currently ranks fourth in the SoCon in passing, and has improved with each week.

Eubank has a big arm and enjoyed his best performance of the season against The Terriers last week, as he posted his best career performance, completing 32-of-43 passes for 305 yards and had a rushing TD in the losing effort.

The new Bulldogs’ signal-caller has also been effective running the football this season, ranking second on the team in rushing yards so far in 2014, having amassed 204 yards and five scores on 70 attempts (2.9 YPC).

Eubank turned in one of the best performances of the Southern Conference season against VMI, scoring 24 points on four rushing scores against the Keydets.

The four rushing scores by Eubank made quite the impact for the first-year player, tying a school mark set by four previous Bulldogs, with the most recent of the quartet prior to Eubank’s mark coming in 1995.

Eubank has a good corps of receivers to throw the football to, led by sophomore wideout Karel Hamilton (26 rec, 362 yds, 3 TDs, 13.9 YPR), who has established himself as one of the top wideouts in the Southern Conference.Hamilton comes into Saturday’s contest having hauled in 64 passes for 1,019 yards and 10 TDs, averaging 15.9 YPR.

Hamilton enjoyed one of his best performances against the Paladins last season, hauling in 10 passes for 101 yards. Hamilton has had some good performances through the first six games this season, having hauled in four passes for 56 yards. In the 38-24 loss to Chattanooga in the first Southern Conference game for the Bulldogs this season, hauling in six passes for 129 yards and two scores, as it was one of the best games of Hamilton’s young career in Birmingham.

Teaming with Hamilton Saturday will be Kelvin Clay (8 rec, 107 yds, 13.4 YPR) and Emanuel Obajimi (11 rec, 111 yds, 10.1 YPR), while Tony Philpot (1 rec, 14 yds) will handle the tight end duties.

With the graduation of Kelsey Pope and Chris Cephus, Clay is now the most veteran receiver on the Samford roster. Clay, a 6-0, 185-lb senior from Chattanooga has 64 career catches for 643 yards and five scores, averaging 13.4 YPR.

Like Hamilton, Obamiji is in his second season for the Bulldogs, and is starting to come into his own as a reliable receiving option for the Bulldogs. He has 30 career grabs for 339 yards and a TD, averaging 11.3 YPR. Obamiji hauled in his only scoring catch last season in the regular-season finale against Elon, helping the Bulldogs clinch their first-ever Southern Conference title.

Philpot has done a solid job at tight end/H-Back this season, and had some pretty significant shoes to fill coming into the campaign, replacing Zeke Walters, who was a reliable receiving option and blocker for the Bulldogs last season.

Philpot saw some time in the lineup last season, appearing in seven contests last season and 10 games in his first season with the program in 2012. He had one of his better career performances against Arkansas last season, logging nearly half of his receiving yardage for the season in that one game, recording 21 of his 58 receiving yards for the 2013 season on two grabs. He has served in more a blocking role this season, with just one catch, and had his best season with Samford as a frosh in 2012, with eight grabs for 89 yards.

The Samford ground attack somewhat surprisingly ranked last in the Southern Conference in rushing offense last season with Truss–one of the best backs in school history–averaging just 122.8 YPG last season on the ground. The Bulldogs enter Saturday’s contest averaging 61 more yards per game on the ground, averaging 183.8 YPG.

The ground attack will be headed up by a pair of talented running backs, in Denzel Williams (97 rush att, 454 yds, 10 TDs, 4.7 YPC) and Jermiaha Gates (22 rush att, 123 yds, 2 TDs, 5.6 YPC).

The Bulldogs always seemingly bring a good running back into the matchup with the Paladins, with Truss the past couple of years, and before that, Chris Evans, who finished his career as the all-time leading rusher in the state of Alabama.

Williams, a 5-10, 191-lb product of Columbiana, MO, made the move from defensive back to running back during the spring, and the move has paid off to this point, as the redshirt sophomore comes into Saturday’s contest as the league’s fourth-leading rusher.

Williams had his most productive contest in the league-opening win over VMI, posting 178 yards and a pair of scores on 16 attempts. Williams is one of the best athletes on the offensive side of the football for the Bulldogs, and he leads the league in scoring (10 TDs). Williams also ranks fifth in the league in all-purpose yards, averaging 97.7 YPG.

Similar to Truss and Evans from years past, Williams is also an excellent receiver coming out of the backfield for Samford, ranking as Samford’s second-leading receiver entering Saturday’s contest, hauling in 16 passes for 132 yards.

Gates is one of the most veteran players on the offensive side of the ball for the Bulldogs, as the senior running back from Ocala, FL, is excellent in short-yardage situaitons.

Gates, who has seen action mostly as a reserve in his career, as well as short-yardage situations, needing just 64 more yards to cross the 1,000-yard plateau for his career, entering Saturday’s contest against the Paladins with 936 rushing yards on 223 attempts and four scores, averaging 4.2 YPC for his career.

Like Williams, Gates is a good athlete, and the 5-10, 216-lb running back also catches the football well out of the backfield, having hauled in 54 catches for 428 yards and a score, averaging 7.9 YPC.

Samford has one of the most experienced offensive lines in the SoCon, having returned four starters from the 2013 title-winning team.

Anchoring the Bulldogs’ offensive line this season have been a pair of all-conference honorees, with right tackle Gunnar Bromelow leading the way, and he is one of the top offensive tackles in school history.

The 6-6, 305-lb native of Alpharetta, GA, has started 24 games in his career halfway through his junior season, including all six in 2014. Bromelow was a preseason First-Team All-SoCon selection.

C.H. Scruggs, who is a redshirt junior from Jasper, AL, was a preseason Second Team All-SoCon selection and will line up beside Bromelow at right guard on Saturday. Scruggs will be making his 20th start along the offensive front for the Bulldogs when they take the field against Furman.

Kyle Champion (LG), Wesley Carter (LT) and Jordan Boatright (C) round out the starting five along the offensive front.

Champion and Boatright are the lone two seniors starting along the offensive front, with Champion having started his career as a defensive tackle before making the move to the offensive front following the 2011 season. Boatright has molded himself into one of the top centers in the league, and will be making his 20th start in the last 21 games for Samford over the past two seasons.

The Bulldogs’ offensive front comes into Saturday’s clash having yielded 13 sacks so far this season. The high sacks total has more to do with the Bulldogs being more of a passing team, but Furman’s defensive line should have an advantage up front in the trenches on Saturday, and Gary Wilkins and Ira McCune could cause big problems for the Bulldogs’ offensive front Saturday.

Looking At The Samford Defense:

The strength of this Samford team has been on the defensive side of the football this season, and the Bulldogs are experienced and led by one of the best defensive coordinators in the SoCon, in Bill D’Otavio, who is in his eighth year as the defensive coordinator. The Bulldogs have four starters on defense that have transferred in from FBS programs.

The Bulldogs have fielded a physical defense in all previous six games with the Paladins since joining the SoCon in 2008. This season will be no different, as the Bulldogs will bring one of the more physical defenses in the SoCon to Greenville on Saturday, including a defensive backfield which is ranked as one of the best in the nation.

Against FCS foes this season, the Bulldogs have been stout, as no foe has reached the 400-yard mark in total offense this season, with the most yards gained by an FCS foe being 343 yards, which was recorded by Chattanooga in the Bulldogs’ second league game. FBS foe TCU rolled up the most yards against Samford’s defense this season, gaining 555 yards in the season-opening 48-14 win.

The Bulldogs will utilize a 4-3 defensive scheme Saturday, with an experienced, athletic front four. One of the key additions for the Bulldogs up front this season has been defensive tackle Michael Pierce (23 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 1.0 sack, 1 FF), who transferred in from Tulane last season and as had an instant impact ever since. He played in all 13 games last season, registering 11 starts. He posted 47 tackles, 5.0 TFL and half-a-sacks in 2013, while also forcing a fumble.

Pierce is massive, at 6-0, 309 lbs, and one of the key matchups to watch Saturday will be between him and Paladin true freshman center Matthew Schmidt, who will be starting his third game Saturday since having his redshirt removed.

Teaming with Pierce on the defensive interior this season will be Jerry Mathis (4 tackles, 1 FR), who is in his senior season, and is another defensive tackle over 300 lbs, weighing in at 305. Mathis has started 26 of the past 27 games for the Bulldogs over the past two-plus seasons, and like Pierce, has been solid.

The 2013 season was one that saw Mathis rack up 35 tackles, 8.5 TFL and 2.5 sacks. Of the two opponents the Paladins have faced this season, Pierce and Mathis offer the greatest challenge at defensive tackle for the Paladin offensive front.

It will be a key matchup to watch, as the Paladins have gained over 200 yards rushing the football the past two weeks on the ground after sturggling to establish the ground game in the first five games. Mathis and Pierce are both all-conference caliber defensive tackles.

The starters at defensive end for the Bulldogs will also offer experience and athleticism, with redshirt seniors Brinson Porter (5 tackles) and Brandon Wilkinson (17 tackles, 3.0 TFL, 1 PBU) rounding out the four down linemen for Samford.

Prior to Saturday’s showdown with the Paladins, Porter and Wilkinson have a combined 27 starts for the Bulldogs. Porter has garnered 16 of the 27 starts for the Bulldogs. Wilkinson transferred to Samford after a redshirt season at South Florida in 2011.

The Paladins appear to have made the necessary changes to accomodate that size differential on the interior Saturday, with true freshman Terrell Bush slated to make his start Saturday for the Paladins at right tackle. Bush outweighs anyone on the Paladin roster, weighing in at 317 lbs, and will be the second true freshman starting Saturday, as the duo has a combined combined two starts not including Saturday–both recorded by Schmidt of course.

Samford graduated one of the best linebackers in the country from its defense last season, with the graduation of Justin Shade, who posted a league-leading 16.0 TFL and 9.5 sacks last season to go along with 129 total tackles.

Experience returns in the form of a pair of juniors, in Josh Killett (27 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 1 FF) at strong side linebacker, and Justin Cooper (48 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 1 FF, 1 FR) at middle linebacker.

Killett has started all six games last season and has eight starts to his credit in his 2.5 seasons for the Bulldogs, while Cooper is in his second season as a starter after transferring in from Texas Tech prior to the 2013 season. The Fort Lauderdale, FL, native is the most talented linebacker coming in as the leading tackler for the Bulldogs.

Cooper comes off a 2013 season, which saw him record 81 stops, 4.5 TFL and a sack. The middle linebacker had a career-high 11 stops against the Paladins last season in Greenville before eclipsing that total with 13 stops in Samford’s 14-point road loss at Chattanooga.

The starter at weakside starter at linebacker will be Tonne Osaigbovo (14 tackles, 1.0 TFL), who is in his first season as a starter and had some incredible shoes to fill by replacing Shade. The 6-0, 225-lb native of Kennesaw, GA, is a good athlete and has started all six games at weakside ‘backer for Samford.

The obvious strength of the Samford defense is its secondary, which leads the SoCon in pass defense and ranks 15th nationally. The Bulldogs have been extremely stingy against FCS in aerial defense, putting up numbers the NORAD would admire in 2014.

The Bulldogs have not allowed 200 yards through the air to an FCS foe this season, including limiting the league’s passing leader, in VMI to 145 yards, which is 124 yards under their per-game-average of 269.5 YPG through the air heading into Saturday’s game against Wofford.

The Bulldogs have also not been a team that yields the big play through the air on many occasions through the first six games, with Mercer receiver Chandler Curtis recording the longest pass reception against Bulldogs this season, which totaled 48 yards.

The reason for the meager numbers surrendered through the air to opponent this season is thanks in large part to having two of the best defensive backs in the SoCon returning for the 2014 season, in preseason all-conference selections Jaquiski Tartt (40 tackles, 3.0 TFL, 1 INT, 1 PBU) and James Bradberry (14 tackles, 1.0 TFL, 2 PBUs, 1 INT).

Tartt will start at free safety, and not only is the redshirt senior the top safety in the SoCon, he’s also one of the best in all of Division I, and just like the 2013 season, is a candidate for the Buck Buchanan Award.

Easily one of the biggest hitters in the Southern Conference, the 6-1, 218-lb senior from Mobile, AL, has 255-career stops, six INTs and 20 career PBUs. Not only does Tartt make plays against the pass, he also might be the best safety coming up and making plays against the run. Tartt had his best season tackles-wise last season, with 98 stops, while he picked off four of his six passes as a sophomore. He made nine tackles in the Bulldogs’ 34-17 setback last season.

Bradberry came into the season as a First-Team All-SoCon cornerback, and along with Paladin corner Reggie Thomas, the SoCon matchup will feature two of the league’s best Saturday. Like Tartt, the 6-1, 205-lb native of Pleasant Grove, AL, transferred into the program after spending a redshirt season at Arkansas State in 2011. Bradberry 14 career PBUs and five INTs.

Rounding the starting four in the secondary for the Bulldogs will be sophomore strong safety Jamerson Blount (29 tackles, 3.0 TFL, 3 PBUs, 1 FR, 1 INT) and junior cornerback Trey Wesley (21 tackles, 3 PBUs, 1 TFL). Blount accounted for one of the two TDs in Samford’s loss to TCU, returning an INT 55 yards for a score and has having a solid first season as a starter for the Bulldogs.

Wesley had his best season as a Bulldog as a sophomore last fall, registering 98 stops, 4.0 TFL, 2 PBUs and three fumble recoveries. Wesley had nine stops in the loss to Furman last season.

Final Prediction:

After three-week lay-off from Southern Conference play, Furman finally returns to the league slate, and despite five-straight losses, the Paladins are battle-tested and a team looking much more like the one picked to compete for the league title in the preseason, playing well in losses at No. 3 Coastal Carolina and at South Carolina. Furman is certainly a different team on offense with P.J. Blazejowski at the controls, and the Paladins are starting to believe, and with good reason, as this is about the time the Paladins found themselves in the 2013 title run. Samford has the best defense that the Paladins have faced in SoCon play, and though the Paladins owe the Bulldogs a big thank you for beating Elon and UTC down the stretch to help the Paladins gain a share of the SoCon last season, there will be no love lost between the two Saturday.

Furman 31, Samford 21