Furman Looks To Continue Streak Of Wins Against VMI Saturday


Furman faces VMI for the First Time Since Sept. 28, 2002

The Game: Furman (2-6, 1-2 SoCon) at VMI (1-8, 0-4 SoCon)

Location: Lexington, VA

Venue: Foster Stadium/Alumni Memorial Field (10,000)

Date and Time: Nov. 1, 2014 /1:30 P.M.

TV/Internet: ESPN3

Series: Furman Leads 23-8, Including Having Won 21-Straight Dating Back To 1980…VMI Last Won 21-20 In Lexington In 1979. The Series Streak Ranks As The Longest Between Two SoCon Opponents And Is The Longest Against One Opponent In Furman’s 109-year Football History.

Head Coaches: Bruce Fowler-Furman (19-25, 4th Year) / Sparky Woods–VMI (16-60 at VMI, 7th Year/79-106 overall, 19th yr)

VMI’s Sparky Woods Coached Appalachian State To Southern Conference Titles in 1986 and ’87 and Left For The Head Coaching Job At South Carolina After 1988 Season.

Furman-VMI Preview

Recap Of Last Week

Samford 45, Furman 0

GREENVILLE, S.C.–Michael Eubank passed for a career-high 314 yards and a TD, while hauling in one of two TD passes from true freshman wideout Malik Johns, leading Samford to a 45-0 blowout win over Furman on Homecoming in Southern Conference action Saturday afternoon at Paladin Stadium.

The loss, which was the sixth-straight for the Paladins, marked the first time the Paladins had been shutout in a game since 1998 in the season opener at Clemson (35-0/199 games), and also marked the first time the Paladins had been shutout on the home turf since 1992 in a loss to Georgia Southern (21-0).

Furman has not been shutout by a Southern Conference opponent since The Citadel posted a 24-0 win over the Paladins in 1974.

The 45-point loss to the Bulldogs marked the third-worst loss in Furman Southern Conference history. Furman is one of two charter members of the SoCon along with The Citadel. Only a 1969 loss to Davidson (77-14) and a 1950 setback to Clemson (57-2) accounted for worse league defeats.

The 45-0 win by the Bulldogs is the largest margin of victory in the series for either school, eclipsing the previous record margin of victory of 35 points, which dates back to a 45-10 win by Furman in 2004. It also marked the worst loss in Paladin Stadium history (34 seasons) eclipising the previous margin of defeat of 30 points set back in 1997, with a 58-28 homecoming loss to East Tennessee State.

Eubank was only part of what was a big afternoon for the Samford offense, which out-gained the Paladins 540-252 in total yards in the contest, as Denzel Williams ran the ball well for the Bulldogs, gaining 101 yards and scored a pair of rushing TDs on 19 attempts, as he averaged 5.3 YPC in the Bulldog win.

Samford sophomore wide receiver Karel Hamilton finished the day just 54 yards of the school single-game receiving record, which was set by Jeff Moore at Tennessee Tech in 2007, posting a 260-yard receiving performance. Hamilton hauled in nine passes for 206 yards and a TD, posting a 22.9 per-catch-average.

Samford got the scoring started early Saturday, as the Bulldogs got on the board twice within the first 2:40 of the contest.

First, the Bulldogs got on the board as a result of its special teams, using a blocked punt to score their first seven points of the afternoon when Jay Galloway registered a 15-yard blocked punt return for a score.

It was the first time an opponent returned a blocked punt for a score since Presbyterian’s Justin Bethel recorded a blocked punt return for a score in a 63-21 win by the Paladins on Sept. 24, 2011.

After the Samford defense forced the Paladins to punt, the Bulldogs would get the ball back and on the first play from scrimmage, Eubank tossed a 62-yard pass for a score to Hamilton on the Bulldogs’ first play from scrimmage to make it a 14-0 Bulldog lead with 12:20 remaining in the first quarter.

Samford would tack on a third score after one of Furman quarterback P.J. Blazejowski’s two INT throws of the day. On a third-and-five play, Blazejowski rolled right an threw the ball to a wide open Kevin Mall, which was tipped up in the air and right into the waiting arms of Samford defensive back Jamerson Blount at the Paladin 27.

Eubank’s first pass–a 17-yard completion to Hamilton–would get the Bulldogs down to the Furman 10, and Williams then finished the drive on the next play, scoring on a 10-yard jaunt to make it a 21-0 game with 5:03 remaining in the opening quarter.

The Bulldogs would make it 28-0 in the second quarter after going to their bag of tricks for the first of two times of the afternoon, and Johns would be involved in both of them. The first saw Johns take a lateral from Eubank behind the line of scrimmage before Johns threw back across the field reserve running back Krondis Larry for a 35-yard score, making a 28-0 game with 9:22 remaining in the half. The play concluded a six-play, 68-yard drive.

The second trick play came just before the half, as Johns would toss his second scoring pass of the afternoon, hitting quarterback Michael Eubank on a throw-back play for a four-yard scoring toss with 2:03 remaining in the half to make it 35-0, as the Bulldogs took advantage of good field position after Furman was backed up and forced to punt from its own end zone.

The second half of play wouldn’t see things improve much for the Paladins, however, the offense would post its best fore’ into Samford territory in the contest, advancing the football all the way down to the Samford before turning the ball over on downs. Williams added his second scoring run of the day, with a 6-yard run less than a minute into the fourth quarter, while a Reece Everett field goal closed out the scoring.

Blazejowski ended the day completing 15-of-31 passes for 133 yards, with two INTs, while rushing the football for 51 yards on 12 attempts.

The loss, for all intents and purposes, ended any Furman hopes of defending their Southern Conference title, suffering their sixth-straight loss and second Southern Conference loss of the season. The six-game losing skid marks the program’s longest in a single season since 1972, when the Paladins lost seven-straight to close the season to finish 2-9.

Game Preview Week 10:

GREENVILLE, S.C–The operative term heading into Saturday’s contest between VMI and Furman is obviously streaks.

For Furman, it enters Saturday’s clash with a 2-6 record and a 1-2 mark in league play, having lost six-straight in a single season for the first time since the 2002 season, which saw the Paladins claim a resounding 55-28 in Lexington, VA.

The Paladins enter Saturday’s contest against having claimed quite a long winning streak in the series against the Keydets, having won 21-straight games in the series dating back to a 21-20 loss to the Keydets in the 1979 season.

VMI is in its first season back in the Southern Conference, re-joining the league this season after an 11-year hiatus. The Keydets come in struggling under the direction of head coach Sparky Woods, having posted just a 1-8 record through their first nine games, including an 0-4 record against league competition, with the Keydets’ lone win this season coming in a 52-24 win over Davidson.

VMI has played much better in the friendly confines of Foster Stadium this season, having posted a 1-2 record inside the friendly confines, losing twice at home by a combined nine points to both Gardner-Webb (47-41/OT) and lost a home conference game to Mercer (27-24).

The last time the Keydets tasted victory on the gridiron was back on Sept. 13 in the win over Pioneer League member Davidson, while Furman posted its last win on the road at Mercer (25-20). The first game between the two SoCon foes came in 1946, with the Keydets posting 26-7

A Historical Perspective On Furman’s Offensive Woes In 2014:
Saturday’s clash in Lexington will pit the SoCon’s two worst offenses against each other, with the Paladins on pace to have one of their worst offenses in school history, averaging just 13.8 PPG and a mere 306.5 YPG of total offense this season.

Furman has played three quarterbacks in 2014, having lost starter Reese Hannon in the season-opening, 13-3, win over Gardner-Webb. The season, especially on the offensive side of the football, hasn’t really ever gone right since. If the season ended today, the Paladins’ average of 306.5 YPG would rank as the second-worst in program history in terms of total offense, averaging just 301.7 YPG in 1997.

Interestingly enough, it was the 1997 season that has strangely mirrored the 2014 season for the Paladins, as Furman lost starter Chris Jonas to a knee injury in the second game of the season at SC State, and the Paladin offense never found its rhythm after the injury. However, the difference in the ‘97 team was that it claimed seven wins, finishing just out of the FCS playoff mix.

The reason that 1997 team was able to win seven games was it sported one of the best defenses in the history of the program, as the Paladins allowed just 304.9 YPG and a 20.3 PPG. The Paladins finished the season as the league leader in sacks, thanks in large part to All-American Bryan Dailer, who set a school and Southern Conference mark with seven sacks in his final career game against Chattanooga, helping the Paladins finish with 32 on the season–the second-most in program history in a single season.

The Paladins started off defensively much like that 1997 team, but the Paladins have seen each of its past four opponents score at least 30 points and gain better than 400 yards of total offense. In the 45-0 homecoming loss to Samford last week, the Paladins surrendered a season-high 540 yards to the Bulldog offense, which accounted for the most since surrendering a school-record 672 yards in a 48-16 loss at No. 13 LSU last season

The 13.8 PPG to point this season would be the second-worst average for a season in school history, eclipsed only by the 1974 Paladins, which mustered a meager 11.7 PPG. That Furman team went on to finish the season with a respectable 5-6 mark, which included a defense that ranked as one of the best in program history, finishing the season ranked 13th nationally, allowing just 257.0 YPG.

It’s interesting that two of the worst seasons in the modern era for Furman football featured two of the best defensive seasons in the history of the program. If Furman can rally and finish strong defensively in 2014, it would once again be the same theme.

Furman seemed to be charted on the right course after a 37-31 loss in overtime to No. 4 Coastal Carolina, while posting what was a respectable 41-10 loss at South Carolina. However, confidence and identity issues on offense have plagued the Paladins since the loss of Hannon in the season opener, coming to a head last week with the loss to Samford. It was clear a team that was not mentally tough and one that lacked the kind of confidence it seemingly manufactured with regularity in the 2013 title run were no longer present.

The Paladins lost just seven players off that team from a year ago, including a pair of non-seniors which were removed from the team after a violation of the school’s honor code, in All-America candidates Eric Thoni (C) and Jairus Hollman (DB). The Paladins also lost seniors Dakota Dozier (LT), Ryan Culbreath (WR), Greg Worthy (DB), Ray Early (PK/P) and Cameron Mason (TE) to graduation.

It doesn’t seem like all that much production, but when you add in quarterback Reese Hannon this season, who was lost in the season opener, the losses really become too much to overcome for the Paladins.

Just like two years ago, the Paladins have seen noticeable problems getting big plays from its wide receiving corps. Heading into Saturday’s contest at VMI, the Paladins leading receiver this season has been tight end Duncan Fletcher, who made the move from quarterback to tight end during the spring, as the change has seen production of the tight end position return to Colin Anderson-like proficiency.

The Paladins’ longest pass play from scrimmage this season was 45 yards, which went to Jordan Snellings in the 25-20 win over Mercer. Snellings enters the weekend leading the Paladin receiving corps in receiving yards, having hauled in 29 passes so far in 2014. Andrej Suttles has seen the most frustration hauling in the football this season after posting such a dynamic freshman campaign.

It was about this point last season when Suttles started to have such an effect last season as a redshirt freshman wideout, posting a pair of long scoring catches in back-to-back wins over Georgia Southern and Samford last season.

Saturday saw Suttles turn in his most impressive performance in terms of receptions, as he posted seven catches for 45 yards in the loss. Suttles ended the 2013 season with 20 catches, and this season, he has hauled in 20 less catches and has four games remaining, and could realistically finish pretty close to the numbers he put up in terms of catches should he turn in four solid performances against VMI, The Citadel, Wofford and Chattanooga.

The running game has seen even more of a struggle, although its imrpovement has been noticeable in the latter half of the season, despite struggling a bit last week after a pair of 200-yard rushing performances in losses to South Carolina and Coastal Carolina prior to the homecoming debacle against Samford.

In each of Bruce Fowler’s first three seasons, the Paladins had posted a 1,000-yard rusher, however, that trend appears to be coming to an end this season, as the Paladins’ leading rusher–Hank McCloud–has just 368 yards through the first eight games. He is averaging 4.3 YPC this season and has a pair of rushing scores. In the loss to South Carolina a couple of weeks ago, Suttles had a career-long 60-yard scoring run. In 2013, McCloud rushed for 1,092 yards and five scores, averaging 5.1 YPC.

The Paladins’ offense scored 281 points through 12 games last season, and through the first eight games this season, Furman has posted 110 total points. Furman would need to average better than 40 points in its final four games to approach the point total the Paladins concluded their 12-game slate with a year ago.

A Different Mentality:

One thing is for certain, the first game against the Keydets in 12 years won’t be regarded the same as it was back in 2002 when the Paladins were fresh off a national title appearance and considered an elite program and consistent Top 10 team in the FCS. Saturday’s contest against the Keydets will likely be a fourth-quarter type contest.

In fact, the Paladins have been dominant in the series against the Keydets, and in the past 20 meetings between the two the average margin of victory has been nearly 30 points, with the closest game during the past 20 meetings having been a 33-21 contest in 1981, which was played in Lexington.

Furman is not a program in the same elite class it was back in 2002, and it can’t play its “C” game and still get a win over VMI. It will be a four-quarter game Saturday in Lexington.
Last Time They Met: Furman 55, VMI 28 (Sept. 28, 2002, Alumni Stadium)

LEXINGTON, VA–Billy Napier threw a pair of TDs and ran for another, as Furman ran out to a 28-point first-quarter scoring outburst to lead Furman to a 55-28 win at Alumni Memorial Stadium in what would be the final meeting for 12 years between the two longtime Southern Conference rivals.

The win by the Paladins marked the 21st-straight over VMI dating back to the 1980 season, which ranks as a school record against any opponent and is the longest streak in the Southern Conference between foes.

Napier turned in what was a solid performance, completing all seven of his passes in the first quarter for 159 yards in the opening quarter of play alone, including a 2-yard TD pass to tight end Willis Sudderth, a 76-yard scoring toss to split end Brian Bratton, to extend a14-0 lead.

Toreico O’Neil would get the Paladins on the board with a 58-yard scoring run on the game’s second offensive play. Napier then tacked on a 1-yard scoring plunge with 8:00 to play in the opening quarter to make it a 14-0 game.

The Paladins totaled 280 yards on the game’s first 21 offensive plays, as the Paladins would finish the afternoon with 640 yards of total offense. The 640 yards of total offense was the second-most productive offensive afternoon in school history, which ranks second to only to the 1987 season finale against The Citadel, which saw the Paladins roll up 672 yards in Charleston.

The Keydets would cut the Paladin lead to 14 points, when Sean Mizzer found the end zone on a 51-yard touchdown run by Sean Mizzer, and a 48-yard INT return Musa Sarki gave the Keydets their two scores, at 28-14, however, Lamar Rembert would squelch VMI’s comeback hopes with a 52-yard scoring run with 3:29 remaining in the half to make it a 35-14 with 3:29 remaining.

Danny Marshall would complete the first half scoring, giving the Paladins a 38-14 advantage as they headed to the locker room on a career-long 46-yard field goal as time expired in the half.

Furman finished the contest with a season-high 397 rushing yards, while Napier passed for 243 yards and had one INT. Keydet quarterback Joey Gibson passed for 200 yards on 22-of-38 passing, including a TD pass and three INTs. Rodney Johnson, Cam Newton and David Latimer registered picks for the Paladins in the win.

VMI Football Tradition:

VMI comes into Saturday’s contest ranking second among current members in total Southern Conference titles won on the gridiron, having claimed seven league crowns, which is second to only Furman’s 13 claimed crowns.

The Keydets haven’t claimed a league crown since tying for the league title in 1977 with Chattanooga in 1977, which was a year before the Paladins won their first of what would become a league-standard 13 crowns after Furman lifted the SoCon title trophy last season.

The Keydets all of their success before the advent of the Division I-AA/FCS Playoffs and have never made an appearance in the postseason.

The Keydet football program, which enjoyed its most successful run from 1953-65 under coach John McKenna, who produced a 64-60-8 record, which still ranks as the best coaching mark in school history.

The Keydets would go on to claim Southern Conference crowns in 1951, ‘57, ‘59, ‘60, ‘62, ‘74 and ‘77.

During that era, the Keydets also had some of their greatest players in school history, including the likes of running backs Sam Woolwine and Sam Horner, who were two of the Keydets best offensive weapons during the late 1950s.

The Keydets enjoyed what was the program’s greatest season in school history in the 1957 season, as VMI went 9-0-1, completing the Southern Conference campaign with an unbeaten mark of 6-0-0 in Southern Conference play. In fact, from 1957-62 marked the greatest in the history of the VMI football program, as the Keydets would record a 42-13-5 during the period, including winning the four times during that run.

VMI’s only blemish in the 1957 campaign was a 21-21 tie with Holy Cross. The only other unbeaten campaigns the Keydets have enjoyed as a Southern Conference member came in 1962 (6-0-0) and 1959 (5-0-1).

The Keydets haven’t experienced much success since that late ‘70’s Southern Conference title, as the Keydets were able to tie for the league crown with a 4-1-0 record. VMI’s lone Southern Conference loss in 1977 came at East Carolina, dropping a narrow 14-13 contest. Overall, the 1977 season would see VMI end up with a total of seven victories, producing a 7-4 overall mark.

Since that ‘77 title team, the Keydets have recorded just one winning season in Southern Conference play, which came in 1981, as the Keydets finished 3-1-1 in the league, and the Keydets finished second to only Furman in the league that season.

Although it hasn’t had any championship seasons to celebrate since that run in 1977, the Keydets managed to produce some of the best offenssive in the league’s storied history.

From 1985-88, wideout Mark Stock would garner All-America honors as the Keydets’ primary wide receiver, registering school records for career catches (165), receiving yards (3,091), receptions in a single-season (74), career TD catches (20) and career 100-yard receiving games (17).

Stock’s 1988 season, which was also the same season the Paladins claimed the program’s lone national title, saw Stock produce an All-America campaign, hauling in 74 passes for 1,161 yards and nine scores, which still stand today as program single-season marks.

The early 1990s would see the Keydets continue to produce standouts on the offensive side of the ball, and first, the Keydets would be the benefitting program of having the services of quarterback Tony Scales, who came to VMI a year after Stock graduated in 1989.

Scales would set the SoCon on fire from 1989-92, closing his career as the Keydets’ all-time total offense leader, and his record of 5,488 yards would stand as the school’s total offense record until 2013, when quarterback Eric Kordenbrock set the new mark at 5,720 yardsin the final season for the Keydets in the Big South Conference. Kordenbrock would go on to set the school’s all-time passing mark as well, finishing out his career with 6,142 passing yards.

Scales, however, was one of the first versions of a true dual-threat quarterback, as he came to VMI during the Jim Shuck era. It would be during a time when the Keydets utilized the wishbone offense–a difficult offense for many teams in the league to deal with. Scales finished his career as the all-time leading rusher for a quarterback, posting a total of 2,475 yards rushing.

Scales’ best season as a running back came in 1990, posting 1,105 yards rushing on 185 rush attempts producing one of the best rushing performances by a quarterback in Southern Conference history up to that point. He would set the school record for 200-yard rushing performances for a quarterback, recording a pair of 200-yard efforts against Appalachian State (205 yds) and Richmond (204 yds), with both of those outstanding ground efforts coming in 1991.

Thomas Haskins (1993-96) Set The All-Time NCAA Record For Rushing Yards During His Time At VMI, Haskins Rushed For 5,349 Yards. Today, That Mark Still Stands As The Fifth-Most Rushing Yards In SoCon History. He Finished His Career With 21 School Records.

In 1993, the Keydets would have the luxury of welcoming one of the league’s greatest running backs, when Thomas Haskins stepped on campus for the Keydets. What would follow would be a truly breathtaking career, which saw him set a new Division I FCS record for rushing yards in a career, gaining 5,349 yards on the ground, marking just one of 21 new school marks he set rushing the football for the Red, Gold and White.

Haskins would post an amazing 10 career performances in which he rushed for 200 or more yards in his career, while posting 24 games in which he eclipsed the 100-yard mark. His 50 career rushing scores will likely never be broken, with his lead in that category is by 23 TDs over second place in that career rushing TDs category.

Haskins holds the top four single-game rushing performances in school history, registering two of the program’s top rushing performances against the Keydets’ most bitter rival–The Citadel. His top rushing game came in his final regular-season game at Alumni/Foster Stadium, rushing for 277 yards, which included the game-winning TD, leading the Bulldogs to a dramatic 34-27 win over the Bulldogs. Haskins holds 21 school records and was a an Associated Press All-American selection in 1996.

VMI and The Citadel will taking on each other for the 70th time when the two square off on the gridiron on the final day of the regular-season in Lexington, VA. It’s the Southern Conference’s version of the Army vs. Navy rivalry, even though both of those schools aren’t in the same conference.

This is the Army-Navy rivalry of FCS football, and just like the other classic matchup, the game between the Keydets and Bulldogs is one that is the most important game on the schedule for both programs. If Furman and VMI have anything in common as programs it’s that neither program’s fan basese has any affinity for The Citadel, with both schools regarding the Bulldogs as their biggest rival.

The Citadel holds a narrow 37-30-2 advantage in the rivalry between two of the league’s oldest original members, with The Citadel being one of two charter members in the SoCon, as the Bulldogs joined in 1921, while the Keydets joined just four years later, and served the league all the way until 2003 before leaving for the Big South following the 2002 football season.

The 2002 season was also the last time the Keydets tasted victory in the series was their last Southern Conference season, with VMI claiming a 23-21 contest in a muddy Erickson Stadium in Charlotte. The Bulldogs have won seven-straight since and are in the middle of their longest winning streak in the series.

The Keydets’ longest streak in the series came from 1950-57, which saw the Keydets claim seven-straight in the series, as the two met in every season during the aforementioned years except 1956.

The two schools have combined for nine Southern Conference titles, with VMI having won seven and The Citadel having claimed two league titles. VMI’s most recent title in the SoCon came in 1977, while The Citadel, which happened to also coincide with their largest win in history over the Bulldogs–a 50-0 trouncing in Charleston–which was the 1992 season. The Keydets claimed their largest win in the series back in the 1954 season, with 42-0 win.

The Battle For The Silver Shako Between VMI and The Citadel Is One Of The SoCon’s Great Rivalries.

The Bulldogs and Keydets met just last season, with the Bulldogs winning a 31-10 contest at Johnson-Hagood Stadium in Charleston.

There have been some great names to come through the ranks at VMI over the years, such as the late Bill Stewart, who was the head football coach at VMI from 1994-96 and went on to become the head coach at West Virginia later, succeeding Rich Rodriguez when he moved from the Mountain State to the University of Michigan in 2008.

But for all of Bill Stewart’s accomplishments as a head coach, one of the more memorable ones came in 1994, when he led a winless VMI team into Boone, N.C., to take on a mighty Appalachian State club, who needed only a win in the final Southern Conference game to secure the Southern Conference title.

The Keydets came into the contest 0-10 on the season, but led by a budding star named Thomas Haskins at running back, the Keydets produced one of the single greatest regular-season upsets in Southern Conference football history, with a 26-23 overtime win over the Mountaineers.

The sophomore Haskins produced 277 all-purpose yards in the unbelievable win, including 225 yards on the ground. Stewart also spent time as an assistant coach at Marshall (1980), and was one of the beloved coaches in college football, always having a kind word to say. Stewart passed away just a little over a year ago, serving at the time as an assistant to the athletic director at West Virginia.

The Keydets featured one of the most prolific rushing attacks in the Division I-AA football ranks in the early-mid 1990’s, utilizing the wishbone offense under the direction of Jim Shuck, Bill Stewart and later, Ted Cain and Cal McCombs.

There have been some memorable signal-callers to suit up for the Keydets as well, including Dave Brown (1985-88), Tony Scales (1989-92), and Joey Gibson (1999-2002). Scales, which starred during the days of the wishbone attack for the Keydets, remains the top rushing quarterback in school history, having finished the 2,475 yards on the ground. Meanwhile, Brown and Gibson stand out as the top two passers in program history.

Brown threw for 5,603 yards in his four years as the VMI signal-caller, while Gibson would eclipse Brown’s passing record some 17 years later, throwing for 5,607 career yards. Gibson also holds the school passing marks for completions (465), attempts (908) and TD passes (38) in a career.

In recent years, the Keydets have been led by a former Southern Conference coach the remains close to the minds and hearts of Appalachian State fans, in Sparky Woods, who led the Mountaineers to their first of 12 Southern Conference titles in 1986. It would be the first of back-to-back SoCon crowns for Woods and the Mountaineers, before he moved on to the University of South Carolina following the conclusion of the 1988 season.

Woods took over as the VMI head coach in 2008 and has a 16-60 record at the helm. The Keydets posted a 6-6 record in their last campaign as a Southern Conference member in 2002, and followed that up with another 6-6 win in 2003. However, it has been a struggle to maintain success and get back to that six-win total, as the Keydets have won no more than four games in a season in the nine subsequent seasons since.

Previewing The Game:

Furman and VMI are two teams headed in the same direction at this point in time, and both share the fact that they have suffered resounding defeats at the hands of Samford this season, with the only difference being that VMI’s loss to the Bulldogs came in Birmingham.

Furman’s 45-0 loss at home actually eclipsed the loss VMI suffered against Samford earlier this season, as the 63-21 loss suffered by the Keydets on the road earlir this season, as that accounted for just a 42-point victory for the Bulldogs.

The Paladins surrendered most of their yards given up to the Bulldogs through the air in last Saturday’s contest, racking up 381 yards through the air , which was a season-high given up by the Furman defense through the air.

VMI comes into Saturday afternoon’s contest sporting one of the top passing offenses in all of the FCS, as the Keydets rank 27th nationally in the FCS in passing offense, averaging 259.8 YPG. The early portion of the 2014 season had seen the Keydets rank inside the Top 10 in passing offense, but the Red, White and Gold has cooled off since. It’s similar to the start by Furman’s pass defense, which prior to the Western Carolina game in the second SoCon game for the Paladins, led the nation in pass defense.

The Keydets don’t fare quite as well in the other offensive categories entering Saturday’s contest against the Paladins, as VMI ranks 81st in scoring offense (23.0 PPG), 88th in total offense (344.3 YPG), and 110th in passing offense (95.1 YPG). VMI has surrendered 15 sacks (1.67 SPG) this season to rank tied for 45th in the country, which is very respectable, considering how much the Keydets do throw the football.

On the defensive side of the football, the ,Keydets rank 116th nationally in total defense (503.3 YPG), 119th in scoring defense (43.9 PPG), 65th in passing defense (220.1 YPG) and 120th in rushing defense (283.2 YPG). VMI comes into Saturday’s contest tied for 86th in turnover margin (-4.4), while having recorded posted 11 total sacks through the first nine games to rank 108th in that category entering Saturday’s clash.

VMI is coached by Sparky Woods, which is certainly familiar with the Southern Conference as well as the Furman football program during his days as the head coach at Appalachian State and South Carolina. Woods hasn’t faced off against the Paladins, however, since he was the head coach at Appalachian State, with the last meeting with the Paladins for Woods coming way back in 1988.

In seven all-time meetings with the Paladins for head coach Sparky Woods since he took over as the head coach back in 1983, Woods has posted a 2-3-1 all-time mark against the Paladins, with Furman having claimed the last meeting 24-9 against the Keydets when Fowler was an assistant coach, while the Mountaineers and Paladins would tie in Greenville, 17-17, in the 1987 clash between the two, with the Mountaineers and Paladins.

The 2-6 overall mark by the Paladins coming into Saturday’s clash with the Keydets puts the Paladins on track to finish out their worst season in the 109 seasons of football played at the school following a Southern Conference championship-winning team. The 1979 Paladins are the next lowest total of victories following a SoCon title winning squad, as the ‘79 Paladins won just five games following Furman’s first of a league-standard 13 SoCon Football titles in 1978.

Furman and its proud football tradition is now playing for the 2015 season, as the Paladins look to finish strong to enhance the recruiting class. The Paladins will need to replace a trio of starters on the defensive side of the football (DE-Gary Wilkins, DE-Ira McCune and LB–Marcus McMorris)will all depart off the defensive side of the football, while Furman will lose running back Hank McCloud and starting right tackle Charles Emert from the offensive starting rotation in 2014.

Looking At The Keydets Offense:
VMI brings into the matchup one of the best young quarterbacks in the FCS, in starting signal-caller A.J. Cobb (199-of-313 passing, 2,015 yds, 14 TDs, 7 INTs), who has gotten off to an excellent start in his career and leads the Southern Conference in passing.

With some solid performances to finish out the season, Cobb could set the single-season passing mark for the program previously set by Joey Gibson in 2002, when he passed for 2,597 yards. With 483 more passing yards in the Keydets’ final three games, Cobb will have that new mark. Considering the Keydets enter Saturday afternoon’s contest with the Paladins averaging 259 yards per game, the Keydet freshman signal-caller should easily reach that single-season mark by the end of the season.

Cobb’s top performance under center this season was a couple of weeks ago in a 47-41 overtime home loss to Gardner-Webb. Cobb would garner Sports Network Freshman of the Week honors, as he completed 34-of-53 passes for 351 yards and tied a school record with six scoring tosses. The six TD tosses were also tied for second-most in a game in Southern Conference history. The 34 completions by Cobb also equaled a school record, while the 351 passing yards ranked as the fifth-most in program history.

Cobb has also managed to set at least one school passing record already this season, as he has completed 199 passes so far through his first nine games, eclipsing the previous record of 193 completions set by Eric Kordenbrock in 2012. Additionally in the loss to Gardner-Webb a couple of weeks ago, Cobb also set the school record for points responsible for (38).

One thing is for sure, Cobb will have plenty of solid options to throw to at wide receiver when the Paladins make the visit to Alumni Stadium this Saturday. The Keydets bring to the matchup one of the best groups of receivers in the Southern Conference.

Aaron Sanders (42 rec, 566 yds, 2 TDs, 13.5 YPR) has led the way so far this season, and he comes into Saturday’s matchup with the Paladins ranking third in the SoCon in receptions-per-game (4.7 RPG), while ranking second in the SoCon in receiving-yards-per-game, averaging 62.9 YPG.

Sanders has enjoyed some outstanding games this season for the Keydets, including posting what was the top receiving performance by any receiver in the Southern Conference this season. Sanders hauled in 10 passes for a conference high 215 yards in the Keydets’ lone win this season over Davidson.

Sanders will team with Sam Patterson (20 rec, 247 yds, 1 TD, 12.4 YPR) and Dane Forelines (29 rec, 276 yds, 2 TDs, 9.5 YPR) as the main receiving options for the Keydets heading into Saturday. The main reserve receiving option coming into Saturday’s matchup has been Doug Burton (31 rec, 478 yds, 3 TDs, 15.4 YPR), who ranks as the Keydets’ second-leading receiver heading into Saturday.

Burton enjoyed his best performance of the 2014 season in the opener against Bucknell, as he hauled in a season-high seven passes for 109 yards and a TD. Forelines had a pair of five-catch performances this season, with the most recent coming in the loss to Navy, as he hauled in five passes for 51 yards. In the loss to Bowling Green earlier this season, Forelines recorded his most yards receiving, which was a five-catch, 72-yard receiving performance.

Patterson, who missed the first three games of the season with an injury, was thought by many coming into the 2014 season to be the Keydets’ best receiver. After missing the first four games, Patterson returned against Mercer and hauled in six passes for 93 yards and a TD in what was a 27-24 loss.

Set to start at tight end Saturday for VMI is sophomore Andrew Lewis (4 rec, 19 yds, 4.8 YPR). Lewis has seen most of his action as a blocking presence in the VMI passing game this season, but has shown the ability to catch the football if called upon to do so.

The VMI ground attack will be headlined by senior running back Deon Watts (88 rec, 362 yds, 2 TDs, 4.1 YPC), who has been one of the most versatile running backs in the Southern Conference so far this season. In addition to his numbers as a rushing threat this season, Watts has also been a threat as a receiver coming out of the backfield this season, having hauled in 30 passes for 216 yards and a pair of TDs so far this season.

Watts has flirted with 100-yard rushing performances on a couple of occasions this season, including rushing for 96 yards and a TD on 15 attempts in the win over Davidson, while rushing for 97 yards on 22 attempts in the season-opening loss to Bucknell.

Also seeing plenty of the action in the running game this season has been Jabari Turner (87 rush att, 359 yds, 6 TDs, 4.1 YPC). Like Watts, the 6-0, 210-lb Turner is in his senior season with the Red, White and Gold.

Turner leads the Keydets in scoring so far this season with six TDs, and has come close to a 100-yard rushing afternoon on one occasion this season, rushing for 89 yards and scoring three TDs on 12 carries against Davidson.

Neither Turner nor Watts were considered to be the starting running back coming into the season for the Keydets, with Derek Ziglar (30 carries, 76 yds, 2.5 YPC) coming off what was a solid 2013 campaign, which saw him lead the team in rushing with 768 yards and five TDs on 148 carries, averaging 5.2 YPC.

Ziglar was limited early on in the 2014 season with an injury, seeing his most significant action recently in a loss at Navy, as he finished that contest with nine rush attempts for 32 yards.

VMI’s offensive line has been steady this season, and came into the came into campaign with three returning starters along the front. Three of the five starters along the offensive front for the Keydets heading into Saturday have started every game this season along the offensive front.

The top returning offensive lineman along the Keydets’ front coming into the 2014 season was Andy Marcotte, who has entrenched himself as the starter at the right tackle position, and has started the past 32-straight games for the Keydets along the offensive front.

The massive 6-8, 325-lb Marcotte has been a major part of the improved numbers in the ground game for the Keydets over the past two seasons. He will be joined along the offensive front by starters (LT) Nate Murray, (LG) Emmanuel Cooper (RG) Bradley Hann and (C) Patrick Doucette. It’s an experienced group slated to start along the offensive front for the Keydets. As the season has progressed, the Keydets have surrendered 15 sacks this season, which ranks second to last in the Southern Conference this season, and the Keydets have averaged an output of 95.1 YPG on the ground, which ranks last in the SoCon.

Looking At The Keydet Defense:
The Keydets bring into the matchup a defense, which has struggled to stop much of anyone this season, entering the contest averaging giving up 503.3 YPG and is surrendering 43.9 PPG to rank116th and 119th in those two categories, respectively.

The defensive front four has been able to get some pressure at times this season, coming into Saturday’s contest ranking fifth in the league in sacks so far this season.

The Keydets will feature an odd front, or “50” defense, with right defensive end John Washington (33 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks).

Nose tackle Joe Nelson (33 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 2.0 sacks, 1 PBU, 1 FF) and left defensive end Denton Ensminger (29 tackles, 1.5 TFL) The unit have been proficient in getting more pressure as the season has progressed, but struggled last week against a Wofford defense that utilized the same odd 3-4 front. In that game against the Terriers last Saturday, the Keydet defense surrendered a total of 499 yards and 38 points in the loss to the Terriers.

The Keydets have some solid talent set to man the four linebacking positions heading into Saturday afternoon’s contest. Inside linebacker Miller Williams (61 tackles, 5.5 TFL) returns as the anchor of the VMI linebacking corps coming into Saturday’s contest. Miller has been active running from sideline-to-sideline.

Teaming with Williams at inside linebacker on Saturday Allen Cratsenburg (), where he continues to play well in the teeth in that VMI defense . The true freshman made what was his first start as a true freshman last Saturday at Wofford, finishing the contest with four solo tackles and and four assists, completing the contest with a total of eight stops. Williams recorded a team season-high 13 tackles in the narrow 27-24 loss to Mercer.

Set to start at the respective outside linebacker positions will be will be Ryan Francis (41 tackles, 3.0 TFL, 2.0 sacks, 2 FRs, 1 FF) and Logan Staib (42 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 1.0 sack 2 PBU). Staib entered the season as one of the anchors of the Keydet defense, as the senior from Midlothian, VA, started nine games at inside linebacker season, including seven-consecutive starts at mid-season. Staib had a season-best two tackles-for-loss in the lopsided loss at Samford. Staib is a veteran and he has all-conference type potential at outside linebacker.

Overall, it’s a strong corps of linebackers, who are disciplined, play the run well and tackle well. Furman will have its hands full blocking this unit Saturday. Chris Copeland (16 tackles, 4.0 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 1 INT, 1 PBU, 1 blkd kick), who leads the team in total sacks this season with 2.5, and Bradley Lipscomb (3 tackles) could also see some significant action at linebacker Saturday for VMI.

Rounding out the starters on defense will be the four in the defensive backfield, which will be led by Alex Keys (37 tackles, 2.0 TFL, 2 PBUs), who will start at free safety Saturday for the Keydets. Keys made a career-high 11 stops in the 38-3 road loss at Wofford last Saturday.

Joining Keys as a starting safety on Saturday will be Alijah Robinson (46 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 5 PBUs), who will start at the strong safety position. The 6-0, 185-lb native of Waldorf, MD, is physical and good at coming up and making plays against the run.

Greg Sanders (28 tackles, 1.0 TFL, 2 INTs, 1 FF, 1 blkd kick) has also been effective in backing up Robinson this season, and comes into Saturday’s contest with Furman having logged INTs in the past two games for the Keydets, which leads the team.

Set to man the respective cornerback positions Saturday will be James Fruehan (46 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 1 INT, 5 PBU, 1 FR, 1 FF) and Damien Jones (29 tackles, 0.5 TFL, 1 INT, 5 PBUs, 1 FR, 1 FF). Both Jones and Fruehan have been effective at corner this season, as both are tied for the team lead in pass breakups with five apiece. Fruehan’s 46 stops ranks second on the team in tackles so far this season.

Final Prediction:
On Saturday, Sparky Woods’ VMI team will playing for its first Southern Conference win since Nov. 16, 2002, when the Keydets knocked off arch-rival The Citadel in a battle for the Silver Shaiko, getting a narrow 23-21 win. The last time the Keydets tasted victory over Furman in football was back on Oct. 25, 1979, as the Keydets were able to post a 21-20 win over Furman.

The Paladins have lost six-straight in a season since 1972, and come in off their first shutout against a Southern Conference opponent since a 24-0 setback to The Citadel in 1974.

Furman will be thin in the secondary, where it will not have regulars Thomas Brown and Trey Robinson, who might actually be done for the season with leg injuries. Expect Adekunle Olusanya and Rodney Anderson to get starts Saturday for the Paladins. For an experienced passing attack like VMI, they will be chomping at the bit to go against the young Paladin secondary on Saturday.

VMI has not played many games at home this season, but when the Keydets have, they have been a tough out. Expect that to be the same case Saturday, as they get their first SoCon win since 2002 and first win over Furman since 1979. VMI 28, Furman 21