In the third game of the season, the Gamecocks will take on what will likely be their closest thing to a gimme game when they host the Furman Paladins. The Gamecocks' other two OOC opponents (not including Clemson) are Southern Miss. and Troy, both of whom we should beat but neither of which is a pushover. So, this game will hopefully provide a much-needed breather during the usual buzzsaw that is our schedule.
Will it, though? Although they haven't played since 1982, the Gamecocks and Paladins have a long history of competitive football. The overall series record is 26-20-1 in favor of Carolina, and during the first half of the twentieth century Furman got the better of us more often than not. That changed in the 1950s, when many smaller, academically oriented schools deemphasized athletics while larger state schools began to put more money into them. Carolina dominated the series from there on out, although, interestingly enough, the last meeting between the two teams ended in a Furman victory. This happened in 1982.
Furman was long a I-AA power in the Southern Conference, and it remains a successful program. The program won a national title back in 1988, and it lost in the championship game in 2001, when current Vandy coach Bobby Johnson was in Greenville. The current coach is Bobby Lamb (who played for the Paladins when they beat USC in 1982), who succeeded Johnson a few years back. Although he has had trouble competing with conference foe Appalachian State on both the conference and national stages, Lamb has taken his team to four playoffs, including a semifinals loss in 2005 to Appalachian State when the Paladins finished third in the country.
This is all to say that while we outmatch Furman athletically in all phases of the game, this is not a team to be taken too lightly. Furman will be fired up to compete with us, and they'll bring their best game. This is also a program that has challenged several BCS teams to close games over the past few years, including Virginia Tech, Pittsburgh, and UNC. We'll need to be ready.
Let's take a look at what Furman brings to Columbia this season.
Offense: In the FCS ranks, Furman ranked 53rd in rushing, 28th in passing, 31st in total, and 20th in points scored. In other words, even if not great, certainly not too shabby, particularly in terms of converting yards for points. They return a good bit of their offense, but they lose QB Jordan Sorrells, who was very solid last year. He'll be difficult to replace.
Defense: Furman was much less effective defensively last season. They ranked 94th in rushing, 111th in passing, and 114th in total defense. They were also 118th and 117th in sacks and tackles for loss. Their saving grace was a high turnover margin. In sum, this defense has a good bit to prove, and Furman's success in the Southern Conference will hinge on its ability to produce a turnaround here.Player Whose Name You Should Remember: Tersoo Uhaa, RB. Uhaa isn't just here because he should be on the All-Name Team. He's a stocky, bruising RB who had a 100 yard game against Appalachian State last season and pushed the century mark a few other times. Expect him to be called on to try to wear down the Carolina defensive front. He'll work in tandem with Jerodis Williams, a smaller, speedier back.
What to Expect: While Furman should be a solid FCS team, they don't stack up with us in terms of talent. As with any such game, the key is to avoid getting cute and to grind the Paladins early and often. While this may keep us from blowing the game wide open early, is will also allow us to avoid turnovers (an FCS team's greatest hope for winning against BCS-level competition) and to wear Furman's smaller trench players out. This will lead to us hopefully building a 14-point lead by the half and then having our way in the third and fourth quarters. That will hopefully include a good bit of playing time for our backups, including Conner Shaw, who I know we'll all want to see if we don't get to see him against Southern Miss., which I think is likely.
Prediction: I predict a four-to-five TD Gamecocks victory.