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Furman has work cut out for them
Furman’s Bruce Fowler found out last year the Southern Conference he left was not the one he came back to.
Fowler played in Furman secondary, then spent 18 years rising from graduate assistant to defensive coordinator with the powerful Football Championship Subdivision program before leaving for Vanderbilt in 2001.
When Fowler returned as Paladins head coach, he found the talent had spread throughout the league.
“There’s always been some really good teams at the top” of the league, Fowler said. “I think the difference is the balance from top to bottom. Anybody can beat anybody on any day.”
Furman was poised for its first trip to the NCAA playoffs since 2006 after wins over league powers Wofford and Appalachian State. But the Paladins stumbled in their final conference game, giving up a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns to 4-5 Elon in a 41-34 home loss that cost them a postseason berth.
It’s a situation Fowler hopes the Paladins don’t repeat this season. “You’ve got to start preparing at the start the week and carry that all the way through Saturdays,” he said.
Fowler thinks his second season will be much smoother for the Paladins, who’ve had a year to adjust to his style and system. A change the Paladins will have to handle this fall is a new quarterback.
Chris Forcier was one of the top passers in the FCS last year, leading the division with a 172.36 quarterback rating and setting a school single-season record with 23 TD passes.
Forcier’s backup, senior Dakota Derrick, will get first crack at the job this fall. He’s played in 12 games and made a pair of starts the past two seasons. Fowler hopes he can pick up where Forcier left off.
The offense has a good place to start with the return of all-Southern Conference tailback Jerodis Williams. He rushed for 1,055 yards, becoming the Paladins’ first 1,000-yard rusher since 2003. Williams finished with five games of at least 100 yards, including a 133-yard, two-touchdown showing against Florida.
Derrick’s receiving corps will be looking to make a mark of their own in replacing last year’s two-top pass catchers in Colin Anderson and Tyler Maples, who combined for 78 of Furman’s 158 receptions last season.
The Paladins also lost experience on the offensive line, losing a pair of starters from last year.
Fowler’s defense will also have some hurdles to overcome in the losses of two longtime starters in linebacker Kadarron Anderson and cornerback Ryan Steed. Anderson signed with New Orleans and Steed with the New York Jets this offseason.
Defensive end Josh Lynn acknowledged the difficulty in finding replacements for the standout players. He said, though, the players are more comfortable in their roles and with the process now that Fowler and his staff are entering their second year.
“We’ve developed a lot of trust,” said Lynn, who led the Paladins with five sacks last season. “I’m really excited about what we can do this year.”
Fowler says, he, too, is excited about what his team may accomplish now that there’s no transition to make. There were inconsistencies down the stretch that kept the Paladins from the postseason last year, breakdowns Fowler blames on a lack of old-fashioned fundamentals.
Fowler won’t let that happen again.
“We did well when we blocked and tackled well,” Fowler said. “The games we won, we executed better than in the games we didn’t win. I don’t think there’s any fancier answers than that.”
By PETE IACOBELLI, Daily Reporter