Season Preview Week 1: Furman Paladins

Season Preview Week 1: Furman Paladins

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Season Preview Week 1: Furman Paladins

Clemson opens the 2018 football season a week from today when the second-ranked Tigers host the Furman Paladins at Clemson’s Death Valley. Kickoff is set for 12:20 p.m.

Furman is the Tigers oldest rival, as the schools met in the Tigers’ first football game in 1896 — a 14-6 Clemson win in Greenville, S.C.  It will be the first meeting between the two Upstate institutions since 2012.

Clemson has won 30 straight games against Furman dating back to a 0-0 tie at Furman in 1937. The Paladins last win over Clemson took place on November 26, 1936.

Furman won the game 12-0 in Clemson on a day when the two teams played in the snow, the only time on record Clemson has played a home game in the snow.

Last meeting: Clemson won 41-7 on Sept. 15, 2012, at Clemson Memorial Stadium.

Last season: Furman went 8-5 overall, 6-2 in the Southern Conference, and lost to Wofford in the second round of the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.

Coaching staff: Clay Hendrix, a former Paladin offensive guard and assistant coach, returned to lead his alma mater following a decade as an assistant at the Air Force Academy. In his debut campaign, Hendrix led Furman back to the FCS playoffs for the first time since 2013. Offensive coordinator Drew Cronic departed to be the head coach at Lenoir-Rhyne after the Paladins led the SoCon in scoring last season. Cronic was replaced by George Quarles. Chad Staggs, whose defenses at Charleston Southern ranked among the top seven in the FCS the past two seasons, is also new in overseeing the defense.

Returning Players: The Paladins project to return 51 lettermen and 16 starters off last year’s squad, including 10 regulars on defense. Among the top returnees on offense are running backs Kealand Dirks (152 rushes, 720 yards, 9 TDs) and Darius Morehead (95-588-5). The contingent of returning defensive starters is paced by All-SoCon nose guard Jaylan Reid (45 tackles, 8.5 TFL and safety Aaquil Annoor (64 tackles, 2 INTs), another All-SoCon pick.

Additions: Furman signed 16 players during the December and February signing periods and added three transfers who joined the program in early January. The signing class included two signal callers, Darren Grainger and Hamp Sisson, who could look to vie for the open quarterback job.

Subtractions: As alluded above, the Paladins must replace All-SoCon performer P.J. Blazejowski at quarterback, as well as All-America performer Matthew Schmidt, the recipient of the 2017 SoCon Jacobs Blocking Award, at center.

Key matchup: While the Paladins return enough contributors, particularly on defense, to put up a fight, let’s face it: Most Tiger fans will be anxious to watch some of their ballyhooed young talent at quarterback behind returning starter Kelly Bryant as they hope to see significant action in an actual game. But true freshman Trevor Lawrence drew rave reviews in spring practice — as did Chase Brice — and look poised to make a push for playing time should Bryant falter. With a bevy of pass-catching weapons at their disposal, even deep on the depth chart, the Tigers should have ample opportunity to see what the future of their passing game might look like.

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