Virginia Tech Hosts FCS Heavyweight Furman

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Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech returns to Lane Stadium to host Furman. (Ivan Morozov)
  • Virginia Tech vs. Furman: Noon, The ACC Network
  • Spread: Virginia Tech -21.5, per VegasInsider
  • Virginia Tech-Furman roster cards: Click here
  • Game notes from Hokiesports: Click here
  • Blacksburg weather: Click here
  • Gameday information: Click here
  • Tickets from StubHub: 

Virginia Tech (1-1, 0-1) hosts the Furman Paladins (1-1) at noon this Saturday in a game that will be televised by the ACC Network. Furman is ranked No. 13 nationally in the FCS standings, and they’ve got a talented young quarterback who has quickly made a name for himself.

Furman brushed aside Charleston Southern 46-13 in their opening game, and then took FBS Georgia State down to the wire before falling 48-42. It was Georgia State who defeated Tennessee 38-30 in the opening week of the season, though it’s fair to point out that the Volunteers are 0-2 on the season after another home loss to BYU in week two, and that Georgia State went 2-10 last season, including 1-7 in the Sun Belt.

Furman is coached by Clay Hendrix, who took over a football program that went 10-24 between 2014 and 2016, including a 42-3 loss to the Hokies in 2015. In his first year in 2017, Hendrix led the Paladins to an 8-5 record and made the second round of the FCS playoffs, then went 6-4 last season. This year he has his team ranked No. 13 in the country in the FCS rankings. He is a Furman graduate who coached at his alma mater for 20 years, then went to Air Force for a decade as an assistant, and now back at Furman with his first head coaching job. Judging from his results so far, perhaps someone should have hired him a lot sooner.

The Furman offense will likely present a bigger challenge to the Tech defense than ODU did, though the Paladin defense isn’t likely to hold up as well. Well start our Furman preview by discussing their offense, which has put up big numbers through the first two games of the season.

The Dynamic Darren Grainger and the Furman Offense

Furman starts redshirt freshman Darren Grainger (6-4, 195) at quarterback, and he has played very well through the first two games of the season.

Passing: 30-of-45 (66.67%) for 441 yards, 5 TDs, 0 INTs
Rushing: 15 carries, 78 yards, 5.2 ypc, 2 TDs

Grainger lit up Georgia State last week for 311 yards and four touchdowns through the air, while rushing for 53 yards and a touchdown.

The Virginia Tech coaches believe that Grainger is a better player than ODU quarterback Stone Smartt, though he’s probably not as strong at this point. He could be playing at a higher level of college football, but his high school career was a bit different than most. He played wide receiver, then was involved in a car accident in his junior year, and then didn’t make the move to quarterback until his senior season (2017). Nobody even knew about him until late in the recruiting process, right before Signing Day.

Here’s a look at Grainger in his senior season of high school. You’ll note his lack of bulk and raw throwing motion, but you also see plenty of athleticism and talent. He’s also not your typical redshirt freshman. Thanks to the new four game rule, he played in four games last season, including one start against Elon, while still maintaining his redshirt status.

Grainger quarterbacks an offense that uses a lot of different formations, and a lot of different styles of play. They’ll mix in anything from spread concepts to the triple option. Duke also ran the triple option against Alabama in week one, so the Hokies might have to face it two games in a row, when the Blue Devils visit Blacksburg on Friday, September 27. We all thought we were done with that when Paul Johnson retired, but apparently not.

The Paladins involve multiple players in the running game. Eight different players received carries against Charleston Southern, and six players ran the football against Georgia State. Only one player, tailback Devin Wynn (6-0, 203, Jr.), had double digit carries in either game. He had 12 carries for 131 yards against Charleston Southern, and 13 carries for 83 yards against Georgia State.

Despite spreading the ball out so much, the Furman running game is still averaging 292 yards and 7.2 yards per carry in two games this year. That includes 204 yards and 5.2 yards per carry against FBS Georgia State this past week.

In the passing game, Furman’s top receiver is Thomas Gordon (6-0, 178, Sr.), who is one of the top wide receivers in program history. He has 13 receptions for 216 yards and a touchdown this season, including eight catches for 163 yards against Georgia State.

Up front, Furman has a solid and experienced offensive line from left to right.

LT Bo Layton (6-7, 287, r-Jr.): 19 career starts
LG Reed Kroeber (6-3, 302, r-Jr.): 24 career starts
C Cole Neely (6-3, 283, Jr.): 10 career starts
RG Jordan Harris (6-4, 303, r-Jr.): 11 career starts
RT Andy Godwin (6-4, 283, r-Sr.): 20 career starts

This Paladin offense wouldn’t have been performing at such a high level this season if these five players weren’t playing well.

However, like most FCS teams, Furman lacks size up front. Check out these key backups…

LT: Anderson Tomlin (6-5, 275, r-Fr.)
C: Evan Jumper (6-4, 262, Fr.)
RG: Jacob Johanning (6-3, 265, Fr.)
RT: Pearson Toomey (6-3, 265, Fr.)

If Furman has an offensive line injury or two, then they would likely be in a world of hurt against an FBS defense, though it may not hurt them all that badly against other FCS foes.

Virginia Tech’s defense was quite good against Old Dominion, up until about the six-minute mark of the third quarter. At that point they started missing assignments and missing tackles. They’ll have to play more disciplined football against a Furman offense that will show them a lot of formations and looks.

Here are Furman’s offensive numbers through two games…

Scoring: 44 ppg
Rushing: 292.0 yards per game, 7.2 yards per carry
Passing: 225.5 yards per game
Total: 517.5 yards per game
Turnovers: 1

Those are impressive numbers, and the Tech defense will have to improve from its second half performance against Old Dominion.

The Furman Defense: A Bit Lacking

As impressive as their offense has been in the first two games of the season, the Furman defense hasn’t been as good. They even got hurt on the ground against Charleston Southern, a not-particularly-good FCS team, allowing 185 yards and 4.7 yards per carry

Georgia State buried Furman with both the running game and passing game …

Rushing: 39 carries, 204 yards, 5.2 ypc, 1 TD
Passing: 29-of-37, 362 yards, 5 TDs

Those numbers, especially those numbers against the passing game, bode well for Virginia Tech’s offense.

The biggest advantage the Hokies have in this game is their wide receivers against Furman’s defensive backs, particularly their cornerbacks. The Paladins played four cornerbacks last week against Georgia State, and none of them performed well by Pro Football Focus grades.

Travis Blackshear (5-10, 182, r-Fr.): 70 defensive snaps, 48.8 coverage grade
Amir Trapp (5-8, 170, Sr.): 39 defensive snaps, 60.5 coverage grade
Cally Chizik (5-9, 170, Fr.): 38 defensive snaps, 56.6 coverage grade
Darius Kearse (5-10, 176, Jr.): 26 defensive snaps, 60.8 coverage grade

All of Furman’s cornerbacks are small, and they include a redshirt freshman and a true freshman. The true freshman is Cally Chizik, the son of former Auburn head coach and UNC defensive coordinator Gene Chizik. They also have Quandarius Weems (6-1, 187, r-Sr.) listed on their depth chart at cornerback, though he didn’t play a single defensive snap last week against Georgia State. Virginia Tech’s receivers should be able to do very well against that group, as well as strong safety DiMarcus Clay (5-10, 170, Jr.), who also lacks size.

Like many FCS teams, Furman also lacks size up front, particularly with noseguard Taylor Hodge (5-9, 255, Fr.). Other defensive tackles include Parker Stokes (6-1, 278, Jr.), Landon Lawrence (6-3, 270, Jr.) and Matt Sochovka (6-4, 255, r-So.). The Paladins will also use a hybrid defensive end/OLB, called the Bandit position. It is manned by Dillon Vann (6-3, 234, r-Jr.) and Adrian Hope (6-1, 218, r-So.).

Furman’s best and most experienced player on defense is free safety Bryan Okey (6-4, 216, Sr.). He is the only player in the secondary with any size, and he is a Preseason All-Southern Conference selection. His strength appears to be against the run rather than defending the pass.

Through two games, here are Furman’s overall defensive stats…

Scoring: 30.5 ppg
Rushing: 194.5 yards per game, 5.0 yards per carry
Passing: 277 yards per game
Total: 471.5 yards per game
Turnovers Forced: 1

For the Paladins to score an upset in Lane Stadium on Saturday, their defense is going to have to play much better than it has played in the first two games of the season.

Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech’s receivers should have a big game against Furman. (Ivan Morozov)

Final Thoughts

I have no fear of the Furman defense, especially their secondary, which is small by the standards of even some high schools.  I believe that the Tech receivers and Ryan Willis will have big days through the air against this group.

Predicting the running game is a little bit harder, as we don’t know which linemen are going to play.  We can easily predict Christian Darrisaw at left tackle and Lecitus Smith at left guard, but the other three spots could be up for grabs…

C: Zachariah Hoyt (r-Jr.), John Harris (r-Fr.), Bryan Hudson (Fr.).  Is Hoyt over his injury?  I don’t know.

RG: TJ Jackson (r-Jr.), Doug Nester (Fr.).  Jackson was hurt and missed the ODU game.  If he’s healthy, will he regain his starting job this week?

RT: Silas Dzansi (r-So.), Luke Tenuta (r-Fr.).  Dzansi was banged up with cramps early in the third quarter against ODU, and Tenuta replaced him, finishing with a higher grade in the process.  The coaches are high on both players.

I believe Virginia Tech needs stability up front to make true progression on the offensive line, and they’ve had to play a lot of different guys at center, right guard and right tackle so far.

Defensively, Furman has me worried.  Virginia Tech has a lot of young defenders, and they aren’t processing things very quickly right now.  Well, the Paladins are going to give them a lot to process with their multi-faceted offense, including triple option, misdirection, multiple formations, etc. 

I think Furman will score some points, but ultimately their defense won’t be able to hold up.

Chris Coleman’s Prediction: Virginia Tech 45, Furman 24

Will Stewart’s Take: I said in Monday Thoughts that I’m lowering my expectations for the Hokies for the rest of the season. Last week, the point spread was 28 over ODU, and I boldly predicted 48-10. The Hokies wound up winning by just 14. This week, the spread is about 21 points, per the VegasInsider.com consensus.

I don’t think Furman’s defense is going to mount much of a challenge for Virginia Tech’s offense, but then again, we’re talking about a Hokie offense that has only gone over 40 once in its last 13 games, against Marshall at the end of 2018. So I’m not picking Tech to score 40+, mainly because I think Furman’s offense will cause some problems for the Hokies and will eat up some possession time.

I don’t expect to feel threatened by Furman in terms of losing the football game, but I think this will be more competitive than most trips into Lane by FCS programs. If the Hokies were adept at forcing turnovers, I might feel differently, but Virginia Tech is tied for No. 105 in the nation in turnovers forced, with just one in two games. (Nine teams haven’t forced any turnovers.) That tells me that Furman will probably not turn the ball over much, and with their offense, they’ll be able to get the Hokies out of position and have at least sporadic success moving the ball.

Will’s Prediction: Virginia Tech 35, Furman 24

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25 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. It is sad to see how far Hokie football program has fallen that we have to ”worry” about teams like Furman. In good old days Furman would have been just a blip on Hokie’s radar but not the case anymore. To be honest I never drank the Fuente kool aid from get go as I don’t think he is the right fit for the program but would love to be proved wrong this year.

  2. Wait… Furman has a QB who can look at two sides of the field on the same play? I didn’t know such a thing existed. #sarcasm

  3. Chris, I had to chuckle when I read your headline, “VT Hosts Heavyweight FCS Furman”- sounds like you must be working for the VT athletic dept., trying to drum up some attendance for the game. Unfortunately, looking at the past two games, we better be taking these guys seriously this Saturday. Hopefully our HOKIES can get the chinks worked out before the real football resumes.

    1. I see your point. It does sound like an effort to drum up attendance, but someone is missing the point of this fan base: We know it’s an FCS school. No hiding that so we should beat them going away. The fan base is not going to go to the game to see a tough fought game (we now that would make us angry), we want to see lopsided victory against this powerhouse FCS team. But I guess considering the trend we’ve seen so far, this could be a fight. We could loose . . . been known to happen but it shouldn’t and no way this team should be looking past anyone. What is sad is that with our tackling ability and a few turn overs we could see an angry fan base and an ugly win.

      1. well, thats not where we are as a program right now. IIWII. our D is young and the only way to fix that is experience. Im on Wills side and just “lowering my expectations” for this years team. if you are expecting them to all of a sudden shut down anyone, then you will be very upset the rest of the way. I just want the good RW to please stand up for the rest of the year!

        Go Hokies!

      2. I don’t feel as confident for two reasons: the Hokies are yet to really gel and find an identity, and this game is like the Super Bowl for Furman., One team will be up and the other … not sure. Just hope they don’t stay around or get ahead, or this could be like the ODU game last year with a steamroller momentum effect. Go Hokies, but my heart is in my throat this season. AH

  4. So, you’re saying Okey is Okay? We should’ve recruited him based on name alone (Okey, for the ‘okies!). And how ever did we miss recruiting Quandarius Weems? On name alone, that’d’ve been a good recruitment.

    So, 7 ypc? Ouch. Let’s hope the LBs are up to task. That’s also a mature OL our kids are facing.

    The HS clip of the QB doesn’t impress me. He throws from his hip. Iffy footwork, at best. When he scrambles, that ball is out there in one hand, away from the body. What really impressed me in that vid were the OL and the WRs he had. I think both made him look pretty good. Stop the run, and it’s a cakewalk. Stop the run, and dare them to throw. Could be a good day for our DBs.

  5. IF Corny and Fu allowed Willis to exclusively air this thing out and then run or put Hooker in for the 4th quarter, I think the score could be more like 56-28 or even 63-35. We are going to give up some points to be sure.

    1. I tend to agree that VT needs to work hard to score early and often, and the passing game seems to be the avenue. Would love to see a 17 or 21 point lead late 3rd and get Hooker in the game and see if it 1) positively impacts the running game and 2) whether he had improved in the passing game

    1. No one knew about his as he played wide receiver his and was injured during his junior year. He shifted to QB his senior year. Most schools have their QB’s identified and committed before the senior year. In other words, he fell through the cracks.

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