RHYMES WITH ‘WOW’
Remember the name: P.J. Blazejowski. The freshman from St. Augustine, Fla., eventually could be a multi-year starter at quarterback.
He was named Southern Conference Freshman of the Week for his performance in Furman's 37-31 double-overtime loss to Coastal Carolina on Oct. 3. Appearing in his second college game and making his first career start, Blazejowski compiled 208 yards of offense, passing for a touchdown and running for another.
He keyed a Furman offense to season-highs in rushing yards (276), total yards (419) and points (31) to help rally the Paladins from a 21-7 third-quarter deficit. In the fourth quarter, he engineered an 11-play, 67-yard drive to knot the score at 28 to help force overtime.
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Furman is annually a contender in the SoCon, but the Paladins have started the season 2-4 after a four-game skid. Furman opened the season with wins against Gardner-Webb and Mercer, but the Paladins have lost to Presbyterian, S.C. State, Western Carolina and Coastal. Like South Carolina, the Paladins had an open date this past week.
The Furman defense is allowing 20.3 points per game, but the offense is averaging 16.7.
Furman started 2-4 last season but made the FCS playoffs after finishing tied for first in the SoCon. The Paladins ended the season with an 8-6 record and a loss to eventual national champion North Dakota State. The main reason for the turnaround: Furman led the league in turnover margin (plus-12). It was the first eight-win season at Furman since 2006.
Furman senior defensive end Gary Wilkins earned consensus first-team All-SoCon honors in 2013 and was a preseason all-conference pick this year by the league coaches. He was the league’s Defensive Player of the Month for September while helping Furman pace the SoCon in scoring defense, total defense, passing defense and sacks.
Wilkins, a 6-foot-3, 243-pound product from Covington, Ga., and team captain, has tallied 35 tackles and a SoCon-leading 4 1-2 sacks to go along with nine tackles for loss, an interception, three pass deflections and two forced fumbles. His 4 1-2 sacks give him 12 for his career, good for seventh on the school’s all-time chart.
Coach Bruce Fowler is in his fourth season at Furman but has SEC experience. The veteran coach spent nine years as defensive coordinator and assistant head coach at Vanderbilt.
The eight-team Southern Conference has a different look this season. Gone are Appalachian State, Georgia Southern and Elon. In are Mercer, VMI and East Tennessee State.
The Mountaineers and Eagles joined the Sun Belt after combining to win 22 SoCon titles and nine national championships. The Phoenix will join the Colonial Athletic Association.
Mercer reinstated football last season and VMI came from the Big South. ETSU left the Southern Conference in 2005 but returns and will re-start its football program beginning in 2015.