FCS First Round Preview – Furman at Elon

What a season it has been for the Elon football program.

Although the Phoenix have dropped their last two games and finished 8-3, that was far more than what was expected from this school. The Phoenix finished dead last in the Colonial with a 2-9 record last season and were projected to finish in the cellar again in 2017.

But Elon proved everyone wrong and has risen from the ashes like a Phoenix instead (apologies for making the same joke everyone else has already made, but I hadn’t done it yet). The Phoenix won eight straight games by a single possession, knocking off teams like Furman, Villanova and Richmond.

Meanwhile, Furman had a pretty big turnaround as well. But it all happened in the span of one season. The Paladins dropped their first three games, losing by a point to Wofford and a field goal to Elon before getting routed by NC State. Not many expected this team to make the playoffs after an 0-3 start, but Furman won seven in a row before losing to Samford to close out its season.

FCS First Round Betting Odds
Furman -6
Elon +6
Total OFF

Keep an Eye On…

Furman doesn’t throw the ball much, but when it does P.J. Blazejowski is deadly. He has really improved in the offense that new head coach Clay Hendrix installed. Hendrix was hired in the offseason and brought over Air Force’s unique offense with him. That has really helped maximize Blazejowski’s production.

Last season, the signal caller completed 53 percent of his passes and averaged 4.7 yards per attempt while throwing one touchdown and four interceptions in five games. This year, he has completed 62 percent of his tosses at 11.2 yards per attempt with 16 touchdowns and four picks.

It’s been quite the turnaround for this offense, which has really sparked the team’s return to success this season.

Last Meeting

The first meeting between these two teams was pretty incredible. Elon jumped out to a 21-point first-quarter lead before letting it all get away in the second and third quarters. The Paladins outscored the Phoenix 31-3 over the span of the second and third periods and went into the fourth with a 31-24 lead. However, Elon would not be denied and outscored Furman 10-0 in the fourth to get the narrow victory.

The story of the game was the performance of Elon’s freshman quarterback. Davis Cheek had a ton of success against this defense, throwing for 301 yards and three scores. He set the pace early and made the opposing offense play catch-up.

Furman’s ground game had a lot of success, too, as Blazejowski was mediocre against Elon. The Paladins picked up 258 yards and three touchdowns on the ground, but two fumbles proved to be costly.

Both teams have adapted significantly since this game. It was only Furman’s second time running Hendrix’s new offense and it was still working out the kinks. As for Elon, the Phoenix started eight true freshmen who have only gotten more experienced as the season has gone on.

Prediction

I wasn’t surprised to see Elon open as an underdog in this one. The Phoenix don’t have much of a home-field advantage—James Madison’s visiting section was noticeably louder last game—and Furman is about the same drive for its fans.

However, I was surprised to see the line open with Furman as a three-point favorite and then move up to six. Some of the criticisms of Elon are fair. The Phoenix didn’t have to play some of the tougher teams in the Colonial and had a hard time moving the ball against New Hampshire and James Madison. However, people are overlooking the fact that Furman went 0-3 against teams that made the FCS playoffs.

This will be a very close game and I believe it’s a relative toss-up. Take Elon and the points in this situation. Some of the line may be influenced by the fact that Furman is more of a name school than Elon at this level, but the Phoenix are just as good and have home field.

Pick: Elon +6

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