Game Time: Saturday, September 8, 2018, 6 p.m. ET
Location: Rhodes Stadium, Elon, North Carolina
How To Watch: ESPN Plus
Betting Odds: Furman -2.5, O/U 51.5
For the third time in two years, the Elon Phoenix and Furman Paladins will meet on the gridiron. These two schools agreed to a home-and-home non-conference series a couple years back and met in last year’s FCS Playoffs too.
The first meeting between these two teams was a thriller. Elon raced out to a 21-0 lead on Furman before the Paladins stormed back by outscoring the Phoenix 31-3 in the second and third quarters to take a lead heading into the fourth. Then, Elon’s defense took over and allowed just one first down in the final frame to allow the offense to score the game-tying and winning scores in a 34-31 win.
Furman got its revenge though. As fate would have it, Furman and Elon were drawn against each other in the FCS Playoffs, and these two teams again played a great one. They traded touchdowns the entire way, but a special teams play ended up being the deciding factor. A blocked extra point proved to be the decisive play in a 28-27 Furman win.
Reasons to Like Furman
It’s hard to take much out of Furman’s season-opening loss to Clemson. The Paladins were simply outmatched by an excellent Clemson team, and their offense was unable to get on track.
However, second-year head coach Clay Hendrix has shown that he was the right man for the job after coming over from Air Force. His multiple scheme looks gave opposing defenses a ton of problems last year, and it helped turn Furman’s program around after three consecutive losing seasons. Although this offense will mostly run option, it won’t always do that, keeping Elon’s defense guessing.
This was a middle-of-the-pack defense in 2017, but Furman should be much better defensively in 2018. All but two starters from last year return, giving this team a significant edge in terms of experience. Linebacker Elijah McKoy and defensive back Aaquil Annoor were selected as preseason All-Southern Conference selections and will be two to watch.
Reasons Not to Like Furman
The Paladins lost a lot this offseason. Last year’s starting quarterback PJ Blazejowski left, along with running back Antonio Wilcox and three offensive linemen. The newcomers had a really hard time moving the ball against Clemson’s front four, but that was to be expected. We still aren’t sure just how good this offense is, and we won’t really know until Saturday.
Reasons to Like Elon
Linebacker Warren Messer might end up playing on Sundays this time next year. Messer is coming off a fantastic junior campaign where he earned All-America honors from multiple publications, and he finished in the top ten in voting for the Buck Buchanan Award. He had 114 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, and 5.5 sacks last year, and he is one of the leading candidates to win the Buck Buchanan Award this season.
Davis Cheek is likely to improve as a sophomore too. He was named the CAA’s Offensive Rookie of the Year after a season in which he completed 58.8 percent of his passes for over 2400 yards, and he should take a step forward this season. Cheek should have a solid running game to lean on too with preseason all-conference pick CJ Toogood leading the way up front. The Phoenix ran for nearly 200 yards in a season-opening loss to South Florida, and that’s reason to be optimistic.
Reasons Not to Like Elon
It’s hard to overestimate just how fortunate Elon was to go 8-3 last season. The Phoenix were outscored over the course of the season, and their biggest margin of victory all season long was eight points. Their record in games decided by one possession is probably not sustainable.
Elon was a little lucky to go 8-3 last year, but this team looks better than last year’s version on paper. I think it will be a close, low-scoring battle between these two.
Final Score: Elon 21, Furman 20
There are some other games featuring FCS opponents that I will be keeping track of on Saturday. Samford has a very good chance of scoring 20 points or more on Florida State with Devlin Hodges at quarterback, so the over in that game is a great bet. Additionally, I think Oregon State is going to name the score in their tilt with Southern Utah.