When NC State and Furman met in 2017, Paladins head coach Clay Hendrix enjoyed a bit of a full-circle moment. His coaching career began as a graduate assistant under Dick Sheridan at NC State, and he returned to Raleigh as a first-time head coach.
In the time since, Hendrix has led Furman to a pair of FCS playoff appearances (2017, 2019), and he has yet to finish with a losing record in a full season. Furman played an abbreviated spring schedule this year—still weird to think about—and finished 3-4, but it’s difficult to know how much to take from the unusual circumstances.
If there’s a major concern, it’s that so far the offense hasn’t looked much better than the group that averaged 21.1 points per game and 4.9 yards per play in the spring. And that makes sense, what with much of the same personnel in place.
SP+ agrees with FCS pollsters that Furman has been a top-25 team through two games, but its offense ranks 106th, and if that’s an accurate reflection of its effectiveness, that’s going to be a problem for the team, no matter how good the defense is.
The offense is led by quarterback Hamp Sisson, who completed only 51.7% of his throws this spring, with 12 touchdown passes against nine interceptions. Those nine picks came in just 172 attempts. Sisson may not be a difference-maker, but it didn’t help that the offensive line in front of him was bad. The Paladins allowed 17 sacks in around 200 dropbacks, which ain’t so good. That was an average of about 2.5 sacks allowed per game for a team that leaned heavily on running the ball.
There are four redshirt sophomore offensive linemen starting for the Paladins, and the guys on the right side of the line had not made a start prior to the beginning of the fall season. That’s a bit worrying, especially if attrition hits.
Furman averaged 3.5 yards per carry in the spring and sits at 3.3 through two fall contests, but it does have a good running back in Devin Wynn, who was the only guy on the team to make the preseason first-team All-SoCon team. Wynn ran for almost 1,200 yards in 2019 and came back with 511 yards on 4.8 per carry this spring (the “2020 season,” remember).
They’ll lean on Wynn where they can but ultimately it’s on Sisson to get the offense working more effectively, and so far at least, the Paladins are at least giving him the chance. After averaging fewer than 25 attempts per game in the spring, Sisson has attempted 69 passes through two games in the fall. He’s been more accurate, and he’s averaged better than eight yard per attempt.
That could be growth, or it could be a function of Furman’s underwhelming opponents. It’s early; who knows. I don’t think it makes much difference for Saturday night.
If it’s fool’s gold for the passing game, that’ll be a shame, because Furman’s defense has the looks of a good unit early on. The defense shut out Tennessee Tech last week and ranks 11th among FCS defenses in SP+.
The Paladins have a legitimate playmaker in linebacker Adrian Hope, who had 15 sacks as a freshman in 2018 and has 31.5 tackles for loss in 32 games played. And cornerback Travis Blackshear is a potential all-conference player who has six career interceptions. Three of those picks have come this fall.
Furman’s 3-4 defense will be another different look for NC State, and the Paladins’ rush defense has been good in this calendar year. But there should be opportunities in the passing game against a Furman secondary that features four freshmen on the two-deep, including the starter at boundary corner. There’s some experience on that back end, it just doesn’t extend very far. There’s not much size in the secondary, either.
That should be a clear advantage for NC State’s offense, and hopefully leads to a confidence-building performance from Devin Leary. The Pack is definitely want to find success on the ground to really feel good about the result this week, but the outcome shouldn’t depend on that. Particularly since NC State’s defense should effectively contain that Furman offense.
Let’s see some positive building blocks this week and get back to the tidy execution in all phases that we saw against South Florida. Getting right absolutely demands that level of execution, especially with Clemson looming.